Eighth in a series

NEW YORK – “Merrily We Roll Along,” a musical by Stephen Sondheim, arrived late to the Broadway community of successes.

Extended a few times at the Hudson Theatre, its staying power is understandable, because of a trio of stellar leads, and the directorial vision of Maria Friedman. The piece, with a book by George Furth, originally premiered on Broadway in 1981, and was a mega-flop, shutting down after only 16 performances.

The current audience taking in the show in 2024 likely don’t know that “Merrily” was an initially an embarrassing failure. So, you can’t judge a book by its flub.

The show’s uncanny zenith comeback, on Oct. 10, 2023, certainly owes its mounting success to its trio of celestial actors – Johnathan Groff as Franklin Shepherd, a musical composer; Daniel Radcliffe as Charley Kringas, a wizard of a lyricist; and Lindsey Mendez, as a former novelist and now a stage critic — whose brilliance, staying power and on-stage camaraderie have been channeled into Broadway Gold.

“Merriiy” threesome, from left: Lindsay Mendez, Johnathan Groff, and Daniel Radcliffe.

The show will finally wind up its run on July 7, 2024, and “Merrily” is undoubtably staying alive just in case it earns a Tony Award or two or three or four. Groff (Best Leading Actor in a Musical), Radcliffe (Best Featured Actor in a Musical) and Mendez (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) could all win, in a well-positioned distribution of possibilities, and “Merrily” should be the undeniable winner of Best Musical Revival. “Cabaret” could be the spoiler.

“Merrily” has style, structure, and substance, with a flashback timetable; it starts at the end, working towards its beginning, and Sondheim’s characteristic soundtrack of words and music, with phraseology and cadence adored by actors. Sondheim has created his signature language, and the revision maintains all his traits, like repetitive lyrics, three or four times. Often, there’s a note of familiarity, like hearing a tune from another of his hit shows, “Into the Woods.” Kinda-like hearing, seeing and recognizing  a Bob Fosse number.

And because the songs are show-specific and propel the storytelling, a break-out tune is unlikely. Yet a number, like “Old Friends – Like It Was” performed by Mary and Charley,  could have life outside of the show. But Charley’s  homage to his buddy, “Franklin Shepherd, Inc.” is a difficult-to-remember-and-articulate tune, with precise hand motions in context of the show, and clearly is owned by Radcliffe, who has the skills to belt this one out to wild applause.

As friends go, Frank is ambitious and fearful, but adorable; Charley can be contentious but is poised; Mary is supportive and trustworthy. The group trio tune, “Old Friends,”  is the epitome of the bond  among Frank, Charley and Mary, underlying the show’s theme of aging together.

The story begins in 1976, as folks are celebrating Frank’s first Hollywood film hit. It ends when the trio are 20-year collegians  on a rooftop awaiting the nocturnal sighting of Sputnik.

Lindsay Mendez, Johnathan Groff and Daniel Radcliffe.

The backward reflections spotlight the tight bond of the trio, including the idiosyncratic differences, and the challenges of maintaining the fragile friendship.

By the way, Radcliffe brings joy and stardust to the cast. I admire his uncanny range of roles since he outgrew Harry Potter (think “How to Success in Business Without Really Trying,” “Equus,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Weird: The Al Yankovic Movie”). I’m pulling for him to finally earn a Tony this year.

While Sutra Gilmore’s costume design is reflective of the number of decades depicted,  though Frank appears frequently in white shirt tucked into black trousers. Radcliffe often dons argyle vests reminiscing his Potter span, whether inadvertently or not. Methinks he’s smartly trying to shelve his HP era; his mass fanhood knows his roots and are supporting him nonetheless.

Johnathan Tunick’s orchestrations are faithful to Sondheim sound…

And that’s Show Biz…

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