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Merrily We Roll Along (musical)

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Merrily We Roll Along
Windowcard for the original Broadway production
MusicStephen Sondheim
LyricsStephen Sondheim
BookGeorge Furth
BasisMerrily We Roll Along
by George S. Kaufman
Moss Hart
  • 1981 Broadway
  • 1985 La Jolla Playhouse
  • 1994 Off-Broadway
  • 2000 West End
  • 2012 Encores!
  • 2013 West End revival
  • 2019 Off-Broadway revival
  • 2022 Off-Broadway revival
  • 2023 Broadway revival

Merrily We Roll Along is a 1981 American musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth. It is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

The show tells the story of how three friends' lives and friendship change over the course of 20 years; it focuses particularly on Franklin Shepard, a talented composer of musicals who, over those 20 years, abandons his friends and songwriting career to become a producer of Hollywood movies. Like the play on which it is based, the show's story moves in reverse chronology, beginning in 1976 at the friends' lowest moment and ending in 1957, at their youthful best.

Merrily premiered on Broadway on November 16, 1981, in a production directed by frequent Sondheim collaborator Hal Prince, with a cast almost exclusively of teenagers and young adults. However, the show was not the success the previous Sondheim–Prince collaborations had been: after a chaotic series of preview performances, it opened to widely negative reviews, and closed after 16 performances and 44 previews.

In subsequent years, the show has been extensively rewritten and enjoyed several notable productions, including an off-Broadway revival in 1994, and a London premiere in 2000 that won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The 2022 off-Broadway production staged at New York Theatre Workshop transferred to Broadway in fall 2023, starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez, directed by Maria Friedman. A film adaptation starring Paul Mescal, Beanie Feldstein, and Ben Platt is in development.

Background and original production[edit]

The idea for Merrily originated from a suggestion by Hal Prince's wife, Judy, that he do a show about teenagers; he decided that a musical version of the 1934 George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart play Merrily We Roll Along would be a good fit, and when he called Sondheim about the idea, Sondheim "said yes on the phone".[1]

The original play tells the story of "Richard Niles, who is revealed on the opening night of his latest play [in 1934] to be a pretentious playwright of successful but forgettable light comedies", and over the course of the play, gradually moves backward in time until reaching "his college graduation [in 1916], quoting with all the fervor of idealistic youth the words of Polonius: 'This above all, to thine own self be true'." The play concerned, overall, "three friends, their artistic ambitions, the price of fame, and the changes in American society from World War I to the Depression".[2]

For the musical adaptation, the story was revised to take place between 1955 and 1980, and the characters were changed: "Richard Niles", a playwright, was now Franklin Shepard, a composer; "Jonathan Crale", a painter, was now Charley Kringas, a lyricist and playwright; and "Julia Glenn", a novelist, was now Mary Flynn, a journalist and eventually a critic.

George Furth was brought on to write the musical's book, making Merrily a reunion for Sondheim, Furth, and Prince, who had all worked together on the landmark 1970 musical Company. Merrily premiered at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway, where Company had premiered.

As part of the original idea of doing a show about teenagers, and in order to, as theater historian Ken Mandelbaum put it, "enhance the ironies of the story",[3] Prince cast the show entirely with teenagers and young adults, who played their characters in both youth and middle age. Prince and Sondheim had conceived of the show as "a vehicle for young performers",[4] and Prince was also charmed by, as he said at the time, "the beginnings of [the cast's] artistry, the roughness of their craft, their inexperience. I was charmed as hell by that[.]"[5]

The show's production design was also informed by this notion: the set consisted of a group of movable bleachers lined with lockers and a screen on which projections were shown "to set the mood and period"/ Prince's original idea for the staging had been to "have no scenery", but rather "racks of clothes and these kids would come in looking like little kids, and they would pretend to be their parents as they see them", but this was discarded due to Prince's perception of what Broadway audiences, paying Broadway prices, would accept from a show (as he later put it, "[G]uess what? I lacked the courage.")[6]

Sondheim's score was a mix of the traditional and the unconventional. In basic form and sound, the songs were written in the style of traditional Broadway show music of the 1950s (where Merrily's story "began") and earlier, a clear departure from the musical complexity of his previous work. But the score was also written to embody the show's backward structure in its use and repetition of certain sections of music. For example, "Not a Day Goes By" is first heard in its "reprise", sung bitterly by Frank after his divorce from Beth, before being heard in its "original" form late in the second act, sung by Frank (as he gets married) and Mary (longingly watching Frank get married). Additionally, "Good Thing Going" is gradually deconstructed throughout the musical before reaching its final—but "initial"—form near the end of the show, as "Who Wants to Live in New York?". This technique was at times used, Sondheim said, to show how "the songs that had been important in the lives of the characters when they were younger would have different resonances as they aged"; he also used some of these musical repetitions to represent "undercurrents of memory" in the characters in their later years. Because of the strictures Sondheim applied to his writing, Merrily's score was one of the most difficult of his career to write.[4]

For budgetary reasons, Merrily did not get an out-of-town tryout production,[7] and instead the production put on over 40 tryout performances[8]—which were actually previews—on Broadway before the opening.[9] The tryouts, beginning on October 8, 1981, had a poor reception, with audiences walking out. By October 21, The New York Times reported that original leading man James Weissenbach had been replaced by Jim Walton (who appeared in the role beginning October 19)[10] and the Broadway opening had been postponed.[11] Rehearsal choreographer Ron Field was replaced with Larry Fuller.[12][13][14] The opening was delayed a second time, from November 9 to November 16, 1981.[15] Looking back on that "painful month", Sondheim recalled, "that month of fervent hysterical activity was the most fun I've ever had on a single show." By opening night, the production team "thought we'd fixed the show," but in retrospect, they had only "bettered it, not fixed it," and the critical response was "merciless".[7]

The Broadway production, directed by Prince and choreographed by Fuller, opened on November 16, 1981, at the Alvin Theatre. It received mostly negative reviews. While the score was widely praised, critics and audiences alike felt that the book was problematic and the themes left a sour taste in their mouths. Hampered by several critical reviews published before its official opening, as well as more negative ones published afterward, it ran for 16 performances and 44 previews.[16]

In his New York Times review, Frank Rich wrote, "As we all should probably have learned by now, to be a Stephen Sondheim fan is to have one's heart broken at regular intervals."[17] Clive Barnes wrote, "Whatever you may have heard about it—go and see it for yourselves. It is far too good a musical to be judged by those twin kangaroo courts of word of mouth and critical consensus."[18]

The cast included Jim Walton (Franklin Shepard), Lonny Price (Charley Kringas), Ann Morrison (Mary), Terry Finn (Gussie), Jason Alexander (Joe), Sally Klein (Beth), Geoffrey Horne (Franklin Shepard age 43), David Loud (Ted), Daisy Prince (Meg), Liz Callaway (Nightclub Waitress), Tonya Pinkins (Gwen), Abby Pogrebin (Evelyn), and Giancarlo Esposito (valedictorian).[19] Judith Dolan designed costumes for the production.[20]

The audience had trouble following the story. Consequently, the actors all ended up wearing sweatshirts with their characters' names. According to Meryle Secrest, "Prince ... dressed everyone in identical sweatshirts and pants. Then he had to add names emblazoned across the sweatshirts because the audience had difficulty telling the actors apart".[21][22][23][24] Sondheim later remembered: "I rather liked it; the paying audience did not." The failure of Merrily meant the "glory days" of the Sondheim-Prince collaboration were over, and the two did not work together again until Bounce (2003).[7]

Subsequent production history[edit]

Throughout the years, with Furth's and Sondheim's permission, the musical has been staged with numerous changes. Sondheim has contributed new songs to several of the show's incarnations, most notably "Growing Up", added to the La Jolla 1985 production.[25][26]


A "streamlined" off-Broadway revival, directed by Susan H. Schulman, opened on May 26, 1994, at the York Theatre in St. Peter's Church, and ran for 54 performances. The cast included Malcolm Gets as Frank, Adam Heller as Charley, and Amy Ryder as Mary.[27] A cast recording was released by Varèse Sarabande.[19][28]

Another off-Broadway revival, directed by Noah Brody with choreography by Lorin Latarro, began on January 12, 2019, opening February 19 and originally set to run to April 7, 2019 (extended to April 14, 2019), by Roundabout Theatre's resident company, Fiasco Theater, at the Laura Pels Theater. The reduced cast included Manu Narayan, Brittany Bradford, Jessie Austrian, Ben Steinfeld, Paul L. Coffey, and Emily Young.[29]

San Diego and Washington D.C.[edit]

A production directed by James Lapine opened on June 16, 1985, at San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse, where it ran for 24 performances. The cast included John Rubinstein as Frank, Chip Zien as Charley, Marin Mazzie as Beth, and Heather MacRae as Mary.[26]

An Arena Stage production, directed by Douglas C. Wager and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, opened on January 30, 1990, at Washington, D.C.'s Kreeger Theater, where it ran slightly more than two months. The cast included Victor Garber, David Garrison, Becky Ann Baker and, as in San Diego, Marin Mazzie as Beth. In his review of the production, Rich wrote, "Many of the major flaws of the 1981 Merrily, starting with its notorious gymnasium setting, have long since been jettisoned or rectified in intervening versions produced in La Jolla, Calif., and in Seattle." He called the score "exceptional".[30]

A 2007 Signature Theatre production also ran in Arlington, Virginia.

United Kingdom[edit]

The UK premiere of Merrily We Roll Along was at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on May 11, 1983.[31] The first professional production in the UK was by the Library Theatre Company in Manchester in 1984, directed by Howard Lloyd Lewis and choreographed by Paul Kerryson.

Paul Kerryson directed a production of the show at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and music direction by Julian Kelly. The production opened on 14 April 1992 with a cast that included Michael Cantwell as Frank, Maria Friedman as Mary and Evan Pappas as Charlie.[32] A cast recording of the production was released in 1994 which included extended cuts and dialogue. The show finally received its West End premiere at London's Donmar Warehouse on 11 December 2000 in a production directed by Michael Grandage, running for 71 performances following eight previews. The cast was led by Julian Ovenden as Frank, Samantha Spiro as Mary and Daniel Evans as Charley. Spiro and Evans received Olivier Awards for their performances, and the production received the Olivier for Best Musical.[33]

Karen Hebden's production for Derby Playhouse in May 2007 featured Glyn Kerslake as Frank, Glenn Carter as Charley, Eliza Lumley as Mary, and Cheryl McAvoy as Beth.[34]

Maria Friedman directed a revival of the musical at London's Menier Chocolate Factory, which opened on 28 November 2012 and transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End on 1 May 2013. The production starred Mark Umbers as Frank, Jenna Russell as Mary and Damian Humbley as Charley.[35] The revival won the Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical in the 2012 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards.[36] It was filmed and broadcast to select cinemas in 2013.[19]

Reunion concert[edit]

The original Broadway cast reunited to stage a concert version of the show for one night on September 30, 2002, with both Sondheim and Prince in attendance.[37][38]


An Encores! staged concert at New York City Center ran from February 8 to 19, 2012. This production was directed by James Lapine and starred Colin Donnell as Frank, Celia Keenan-Bolger as Mary, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Charley, Elizabeth Stanley as Gussie, and Betsy Wolfe as Beth. This version incorporated parts of revisions done for the 1985 La Jolla Playhouse production and 1990 and 1994 productions.[39] Many members of the original production were invited to attend on February 14 and joined the Encores! cast and Sondheim on stage following the performance to sing "Old Friends".

2022 Off-Broadway / 2023 Broadway revival[edit]

An off-Broadway revival, directed by Maria Friedman and based on her prior staging at the Menier Chocolate Factory, ran at New York Theatre Workshop from November 21, 2022 to January 22, 2023, starring Jonathan Groff as Frank, Daniel Radcliffe as Charley, Lindsay Mendez as Mary, Krystal Joy Brown as Gussie, Katie Rose Clarke as Beth, and Reg Rogers as Joe.[40] In September 2023, the production transferred to Broadway for a limited engagement at the Hudson Theatre, with all six principal actors reprising their roles. Previews began on September 19, 2023 with opening night on October 10. It is the first time that Merrily We Roll Along has run on Broadway since the 1981 original production.[41] During its first week of previews, the show broke the house record at the Hudson Theatre and played to sold-out audiences, grossing over $1.3 million.[42] On December 5, 2023, it was announced that the production would extend until July 7, 2024 with the original cast. The New York Times described the revival as "the first convincing revival" of the "cult flop," crediting the success to "Maria Friedman's unsparing direction and a thrillingly fierce central performance by Jonathan Groff...Groff, always a compelling actor, here steps up to an unmissable one. With his immense charisma turned in on itself, he seems to sweat emotion: ambition, disappointment and, most frighteningly, a terrible frozen disgust."[43]

Other major productions[edit]

The first Australian professional production was presented by the Sydney Theatre Company at the Footbridge Theatre in May–July 1996. It featured Tom Burlinson, Tony Sheldon, Peta Toppano, Greg Stone and Gina Riley, and was directed by Wayne Harrison.[44]

In 2002, the show ran for approximately 120 performances at the Shaw Festival in a production directed by Jackie Maxwell and featuring Tyley Ross as Frank, Jay Turvey as Charley and Jenny L. Wright as Mary.[45]

As part of the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center, a limited engagement of 14 performances opened on July 12, 2002 at the Eisenhower Theater. The cast featured Michael Hayden (Frank), Miriam Shor (Mary), Raúl Esparza (Charley), and Emily Skinner (Gussie).[46]

In September 2002, a concert production of Merrily We Roll Along was a part of the 2002-2003 Reprise! season. The production starred Hugh Panaro as Franklin, Kevin Chamberlin as Charley, Lea DeLaria as Mary, Teri Hatcher as Gussie, and Jean Louisa Kelly as Beth.[47]

A Derby Playhouse production ran from April 19 to May 19, 2007, starring Glyn Kerslake, Glenn Carter and Eliza Lumley in the lead roles.[48] A Signature Theatre (Arlington, Virginia) production, directed by Eric D. Schaeffer, opened on September 4, 2007 and ran through October 14, 2007.[49] The production received four Helen Hayes Award nominations,[50] with a win for Erik Liberman as Charley.[51] John Doyle directed a production running at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, Berkshire, from January 16, 2008 through March 8, 2008. It featured Sam Kenyon (Frank), Rebecca Jackson (Gussie), Elizabeth Marsh (Mary) and Thomas Padden (Charley).[52][53]

Available Light Theatre (AVLT) presented the revised version at the Vern Riffe Center in Columbus, Ohio, from August 19, 2010 through September 4, 2010. It was directed by John Dranschak and featured Ian Short as Frank, Nick Lingnofski as Charley, and Heather Carvel as Mary. The musical director was Pam Welsh-Huggins.[54] The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park presented a revival directed by John Doyle, using the actor-musician concept, opening on March 3, 2012. The cast included Malcolm Gets (Frank), Daniel Jenkins (Charley), and Becky Ann Baker (Mary). This production used the 1994 York Theatre revisions.[55]

Clwyd Theatr Cymru at Mold in North Wales performed the musical May 12 – June 2, 2012, directed by Nikolai Foster.[56] PAN Productions staged Merrily We Roll Along in 2014 at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre for the first time in South East Asia. Directed by Nell Ng with music direction by Nish Tham. This production featured Peter Ong (Frank), Aaron Teoh (Charley), Chang Fang Chyi (Mary), Nikki Palikat (Gussie), Stephanie Van Driesen (Beth), and Dennis Yeap (Joe).[57][58]

Astoria Performing Arts Center produced an off-off-Broadway production in 2015 starring Jack Mosbacher as Frank, Ally Bonino as Mary, and Nicholas Park as Charley.[59] The production won Outstanding Production of a Musical at the 2015 New York Innovative Theatre Awards.[60]

The Wallis Annenberg Center for The Performing Arts in Beverly Hills staged a production from November 23 to December 18, 2016. Directed by Michael Arden, the production starred Aaron Lazar as Frank, Wayne Brady as Charley, and Donna Vivino as Mary.[61]

The Huntington Theatre Company produced Maria Friedman's version in Boston, running from September 8 to October 15, 2017. Umbers and Humbley reprised their roles from the London production, with Eden Espinosa joining as Mary.

The Hayes Theatre in Sydney staged a production directed by Dean Bryant which was intended to start its run on 16 April 2020,[62] but was delayed by the COVID pandemic. The production finally premiered on 21 October 2021, with an expected run to 27 November.[63] The production was well-reviewed, and extended its run to 9 December.[64][65][66]

Notable casts[edit]

Character Broadway San Diego Washington DC West End Kennedy Center NYCC
West End Revival Los Angeles Broadway Revival
1981 1985 1990 2000 2002 2012 2013 2016 2023
Franklin Shepard Jim Walton John Rubinstein Victor Garber Julian Ovenden Michael Hayden Colin Donnell Mark Umbers Aaron Lazar Jonathan Groff
Charley Kringas Lonny Price Chip Zien David Garrison Daniel Evans Raúl Esparza Lin-Manuel Miranda Damian Humbley Wayne Brady Daniel Radcliffe
Mary Flynn Ann Morrison Heather MacRae Becky Ann Baker Samantha Spiro Miriam Shor Celia Keenan-Bolger Jenna Russell Donna Vivino Lindsay Mendez
Gussie Carnegie Terry Finn Mary Gordon Murray Anna Francolini Emily Skinner Elizabeth Stanley Josefina Gabrielle Saycon Sengbloh Krystal Joy Brown
Beth Spencer Sally Klein Marin Mazzie Mary Stockley Anastasia Barzee Betsy Wolfe Clare Foster Whitney Bashor Katie Rose Clarke
Joe Josephson Jason Alexander Merwin Goldsmith Richard Bauer James Millard Adam Heller Adam Grupper Glyn Kerslake Amir Talai Reg Rogers


This is a synopsis of the current, revised version of the show, not the original one performed on Broadway.

Act I[edit]

Franklin Shepard is a rich, famous, and influential songwriter and film producer ("Overture/Merrily We Roll Along"). As the years roll back over 20 years of his life, we see how he went from penniless composer to wealthy producer, and what he gave up to get there.

In Frank's swank Los Angeles pad in 1976, after the premiere of his latest film, a party is in full swing. Frank's Hollywood peers are there, and bestow lavish praise on him ("That Frank"). His oldest friend, theatre critic Mary Flynn, is also at the party. She is disgusted by the shallow people Frank has chosen to associate with and by his abandonment of music—his true talent—for commercial film production. Frank seems happy, but tenses up when a guest mentions a Pulitzer-winning play by Charles Kringas, Frank's former best friend and lyricist. Frank and Mary get a moment alone together, and she chides him for missing his son's graduation. Frank admits to Mary that his new film is just a formula picture, but promises his next one will be better. But Mary has given up waiting, and becomes more and more inebriated. She gives a drunken toast, castigating Frank and insulting his guests, and storms out of the party (and Frank's life) in a drunken rage.

Frank's wife Gussie arrives and they start to argue. She is angry that the leading role in Frank's movie, which she had planned to star in, went to a younger actress, Meg. Stung by Mary's rant, Frank confesses that he has concentrated so completely on being a "success" that everything and everyone he most valued at the beginning of his career has gone. The evening ends traumatically when Gussie confronts Frank with knowledge of his infidelity with Meg. He ends their marriage, and she viciously attacks Meg by splashing iodine in her eyes.

The years roll back to 1973 ("Merrily We Roll Along – First Transition"). Frank and Charley are about to be interviewed in a New York TV studio. Mary greets Charley backstage, and Charley tells her that Frank never has time to write with him anymore. Mary, whose drinking is steadily worsening, confesses that she set up the interview to force Frank to publicly commit to writing the show he and Charley have been trying to write for years, but Charley is frustrated and bitter. Mary wonders plaintively why can't their collective friendship be "like it was" ("Old Friends (Part I) – Like It Was"), and Charley realizes that Mary, after 16 years, is still hopelessly in love with Frank. When Frank finally arrives, with his new wife Gussie in tow, tensions are running high. Gussie is trying to avoid her ex-husband, washed-up Broadway producer Joe Josephson, who is hitting her up for money, and Frank is fretting over how to tell Charley that he has signed a three-picture deal. Just before the interview, the host lets the news slip, infuriating Charley. As they go live on air, an increasingly angry and nervous Charley launches into a furious rant on the way his composer has transformed himself into a corporation ("Franklin Shepard, Inc."), pleading with Frank to return to doing what he does best. After the cameras are shut off, Charley is remorseful, but the damage is done. Frank ends his friendship with Charley and walks out.

In 1968, Mary, Charley, and Frank are in Frank's new apartment on Central Park West ("Merrily We Roll Along – Second Transition"), welcoming Frank back from a cruise. Charley has brought along Frank's young son, Frankie, whom he has not seen since his divorce. Frank has brought a gift for each of his friends: a copy of Mary's best-selling novel in Spanish and a contract for a film option on his and Charley's show, Musical Husbands. Charley refuses the latter, and an argument is sparked. Frank wants to option the film version for the money, which he needs after a contentious divorce, but Charley says it will get in the way of writing anything new. Mary calms them down, reminding them about the importance of their friendship ("Old Friends"). Frank's producer Joe and his wife Gussie arrive. Gussie has brought champagne, which the teetotaler Mary refuses. It becomes clear that Frank and Gussie are having an affair, and Charley, Mary, and Joe are all aware of it. Mary, who has been in love with Frank for years, is devastated by his irresponsibility and takes a generous gulp of champagne to prove a point. When everyone leaves, Charley lingers and advises Frank to end the affair, encouraging him to join him and Mary for a get-together at the club where they got their start. After he leaves, Frank plays through an old song and attempts to make sense of his choices. He seems to be on the verge of composing a new piece but is interrupted when Gussie returns, announcing that she intends to live with him and divorce Joe ("Growing Up").

In 1966 ("Merrily We Roll Along – Third Transition"), Frank is being divorced by his wife Beth, and they fight over custody of their son in a courthouse. Reporters flock around, eager to catch gossip since Gussie has been subpoenaed. Frank confronts Beth, who confesses that she still loves him, but that she can't live with him knowing he was unfaithful to her with Gussie ("Not a Day Goes By"). She drags their son away, heading to Houston to live with her father. Frank collapses in despair but is consoled by Mary, Charley, and his other remaining friends. They convince him to take a cruise, forget and start anew, saying that this was the "best thing that ever could have happened" ("Now You Know").

Act II[edit]

In 1964, Gussie is performing a song onstage, as the star of Musical Husbands, on the opening night of Frank and Charley's first Broadway show ("Gussie's Opening Number"). The curtain comes down on the show, and as the audience applauds, Charley and Frank, backstage with Joe, Mary, and Beth, realize they have a hit on their hands ("It's a Hit!"). Charley's wife, Evelyn, is in labor, and he and Beth rush to the hospital. Mary asks Beth to stay behind and make sure Frank is not left alone with Gussie, but Beth chooses to trust her husband and leaves Frank on his own, listening to the sound of the audience applauding.

In 1962 ("Merrily We Roll Along – Fourth Transition"), Frank, Beth, Charley, and Mary have been invited to a party at Gussie and Joe's elegant Sutton Place apartment, where they stand starstruck by the glamor and the influential crowd ("The Blob"). Deliberately spilling wine on Beth's dress, Gussie pulls Frank away from the partygoers, confiding her unhappiness to him, and convinces him to write the commercial show Joe is producing, Musical Husbands, rather than the political satire he and Charley are trying to get produced ("Growing Up" (Reprise)). Returning to her guests, she invites the songwriters to perform their latest song, "Good Thing Going". The guests love it and Gussie implores them to do an encore. Charley urges Frank not to, but Frank agrees. They play the song again, but the guests quickly lose interest and resume their noisy cocktail chatter ("The Blob" (Reprise)). Charley storms out as Mary looks on worriedly.

In 1960 ("Merrily We Roll Along – Fifth Transition"). Charley, Frank, and Beth are performing at a small nightclub in Greenwich Village, with a supportive Mary lending a hand. Trying to appear bright and sophisticated, they perform a song celebrating America's new First Family ("Bobby and Jackie and Jack"). Joe is in the tiny audience and is quite impressed, as is his new fiancée (and former secretary) Gussie. After the show, Frank explains to them that he and Beth are marrying. It becomes clear that the wedding is due to her pregnancy, but Frank professes his happiness anyway. With Mary, Charley, and Beth's disapproving parents looking on, the happy couple exchanges vows as a lovelorn Mary tries to swallow her feelings for Frank ("Not a Day Goes By" (Reprise)).

In 1959 ("Merrily We Roll Along – Sixth Transition"), Frank, Charley, and Mary are busy in New York, working their way up the career ladder ("Opening Doors"), taking any job they can and working feverishly on their songs, plays, and novels. The men audition for Joe, but he wants more "hummable" tunes, and instructs them to leave their name with his secretary. So they decide to do their own show and, in an ensuing montage, audition and hire Beth and form a cabaret show together.

In October 1957 ("Merrily We Roll Along – Seventh Transition"), early in the morning, Frank and Charley are on the roof of an apartment building on New York City's 110th Street, waiting to see the first-ever earth-orbiting satellite. Frank, who is about to be released from the Army, tells Charley how much he likes Charley's plays and proposes that they turn one, a political satire, into a musical. Mary, their neighbor, arrives to view the satellite, and meets the boys for the first time. She has heard Frank's piano from her apartment, and tells him how much she admires his music. He speaks of how much composing means to him. Suddenly, Sputnik is there in the sky, and now, for the young friends, anything is possible ("Our Time").

Musical numbers[edit]

Current songlist[edit]

Original Broadway songlist (1981)[67][edit]


The original Broadway cast recorded the show the day after their final performance. The recording was released by RCA as an LP album in April 1982, then compact disc in 1986. A 2007 remastered CD release from Sony/BMG Broadway Masterworks includes a bonus track of Sondheim performing "It's a Hit".[68]

A cast recording of the 2012 Encores! revival was released by PS Classics as a two-CD set,[69] featuring Colin Donnell, Celia Keenan Bolger, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jessica Vosk, and Elizabeth Stanley.

Various artists have recorded the show's songs, including Carly Simon, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Cleo Laine, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone, Barry Manilow, Audra McDonald, Michael Crawford, and Lena Horne. "Not a Day Goes By", "Good Thing Going", "Old Friends", and "Our Time" frequently appear on the cabaret circuit.

The 2023 Broadway revival production released a digital cast recording on November 15, after announcing it just a few hours before at the end of the performance on November 14. The physical CD was released on January 12, 2024.[70]


Original cast member Lonny Price directed the documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, describing the "thrilling, wrenching experience" of the original production. The film opened November 18, 2016, in New York City,[71][72] followed by a question-and-answer session with Price, moderated by Bernadette Peters.[73]

Film adaptation[edit]

Richard Linklater announced in 2019 that he would film an adaptation of the musical over the course of twenty years, allowing the cast to age with their characters (a style Linklater used in Boyhood).[74] Actors Ben Platt, Paul Mescal, and Beanie Feldstein portray Charley, Frank, and Mary. Mescal replaced Blake Jenner, who was initially attached to the project.[75]

The 2017 film Lady Bird includes a school production of Merrily We Roll Along in its story;[76] one of the students in the production was played by Feldstein.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1982 Tony Awards Best Original Score Stephen Sondheim Nominated
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Music Nominated
Outstanding Lyrics Won
Theatre World Award Ann Morrison Won

1994 Off-Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1995 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Musical Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Musical Malcolm Gets Nominated

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2001 Laurence Olivier Awards Best New Musical Won
Best Actor in a Musical Daniel Evans Won
Best Actress in a Musical Samantha Spiro Won
Best Theatre Choreographer Peter Darling Nominated

2012 London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2012 Critics' Circle Theatre Award Best Musical Won

2013 West End production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2013 Evening Standard Theatre Awards Best Musical Won
2014 Laurence Olivier Awards Best Musical Revival Won
Best Actress in a Musical Jenna Russell Nominated
Best Supporting Role in a Musical Josefina Gabrielle Nominated
Best Director Maria Friedman Nominated
Best Sound Design Gareth Owen Won (tie)
Best Costume Design Soutra Gilmour Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Music The Orchestra Nominated

2022 Off-Broadway revival[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2023 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical Jonathan Groff Nominated
Lindsay Mendez Nominated
Outstanding Featured Performance in a Musical Daniel Radcliffe Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Maria Friedman Nominated
Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Revival Nominated
Outstanding Lead Performer in a Musical Lindsay Mendez Nominated
Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical Krystal Joy Brown Nominated
Reg Rogers Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Awards[77] Outstanding Revival of a Musical (On or Off-Broadway) Nominated
Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical Jonathan Groff Won
Outstanding Featured Performer in an Off-Broadway Musical Lindsay Mendez Won
Daniel Radcliffe Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Musical Maria Friedman Nominated
Outstanding Orchestrations Jonathan Tunick Nominated
Off-Broadway Alliance Awards Outstanding Revival of a Musical Won

2023 Broadway revival[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
2024 Drama League Awards[78] Outstanding Revival of a Musical Won
Outstanding Direction of a Musical Maria Friedman Won
Distinguished Performance Jonathan Groff Nominated
Lindsay Mendez Nominated
Daniel Radcliffe Nominated
Tony Awards Best Revival of a Musical Won
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Jonathan Groff Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Daniel Radcliffe Won
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Lindsay Mendez Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Maria Friedman Nominated
Best Sound Design of a Musical Kai Harada Nominated
Best Orchestrations Jonathan Tunick Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards Special Citation Honored


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