Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical “Merrily We Roll Along” has become as notorious — and beloved in some circles — as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. The first Broadway production closed after just 16 performances, a high-profile flop that’s chronicled in the brilliant new documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” by original cast member Lonny Price.
A new Los Angeles revival by young director Michael Arden, which had a delayed press opening on Saturday night at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, is brilliantly sung by a talented cast of 20 led by Broadway veterans Aaron Lazar, Donna Vivino and Wayne Brady (who seems to have recovered from an outbreak of gout that forced him to skip the official opening night last Wednesday). But the show suffers from many of the same problems that have beset previous productions — as well as a few new ones unique to this staging.
Sondheim’s score is typically challenging and memorable — and standout tunes include “Not a Day Goes By” and “Old Friends” that have become standards in cabarets and revues despite the relative obscurity of the show. But the backwards structure of the narrative — chronicling three aspiring artists from the bitter dissolution of their friendship in 1976 to their wide-eyed mutual ambition on a Manhattan rooftop in 1967 — remains a challenge, as does the fact that the three leads are all 40-something performers who must play increasingly younger over the course of the show. (The original production took an opposite approach, casting actors in their early 20s who included future stars such as “Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander and Tony winner Tonya Pinkins.) Read the full review at TheWrap.