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Norkin on Sondheim

Merrily We Roll Along, with book by George Furth, music and Iyrics by Stephen Sondheim, produced by Hal Prince, was primarily concerned with new format. An ordinary story was played backwards, with the cast wearing sweatshirts labeled "Best Pal", etc. Beginning in the present, the successful lead character, a cad, reenacts his life to reveal the cynical decisions made on the way up from his youthful idealism. I found the same concept more successtuly achieved in a play called Betrayal.

Merrily ran only 16 performances. Prince felt that hostile word-of-mouth during previews killed it. He had followed the pattern of Sweeney Todd which had opened in New York without the usual expensive out-of-town tryout because of its extensive scenery. This included a cumbersome construction crane, symbolizing the 19th century industrial age, that moved, and required producer Arthur Cantor as special supervisor.

The success of Sweeney Todd encouraged Hal Prince to save on a pre-Broadway tour for Merrily which was so light on scenery that he considered presenting it on a bare stage. In this case the pre-Broadway tour might have prevented the deadly advance word-of-mouth.




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