Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along Bags Seven Olivier 2014 Nominations

By James Inverne on Mar 15, 2014 02:40 AM EDT

Sometimes revenge is a dish served cold, whether best that way or not. When Stephen Sondheim's beautifully-structured musical Merrily We Roll Along was new, in 1981, it ran for only 16 post-preview performances in New York. Which is what for most composers would be a disaster. For Sondheim, that's called business as usual. Well, OK, not quite, 12 shows is pretty terrible by anyone's standards. But in true Sondheim fashion, fashion was proved wrong as the passing of time has led to acceptance, respect and acclaim for Merrily. The latest triumph is its just-announced seven nominations in the UK's 2014 Olivier Awards.

The show, a fractured, played-backwards cautionary tale of three friends driven apart from each other and their talents by materialism, is like a brilliant multi-dimensional puzzle (puzzles famously being a favorite Sondheim pastime) which can be seen quite differently when looked at from different perspectives -- but assumes its true power only when viewed as a whole. It still has a long way to go before becoming a staple of the musical theater repertoire, but after its magical Donmar Warehouse outing more than a decade ago, this latest production may do the trick. Why? Because director Maria Friedman found a different way to tell aspects of the story, and that is often the mark of a great show, as opposed to a merely good one (the characterisation of Charlie as a good-hearted but somewhat abrasive and even a little scornful was especially clever).

The West End run has finished, but perhaps success at the Oliviers will clear the way to a return, to London or elsewhere. At least, unlike the Donmar's version, it has been filmed and even shown in cinemas. So, with Merrily now rolling along, which next neglected Sondheim will be picked up? The Frogs? Road Show?

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TagsStephen Sondheim, Olivier Awards 2013

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