Merrily We Roll Along

Musical by Stephen Sondheim.Set over three decades in the entertainment business Merrily We Roll Along charts the turbulent relationship between three friends Franklin, Charley and Mary. Starting in 1980 and travelling backwards in time, this powerful and moving story features some of Sondheim's most beautiful songs including Good Thing Going, Not a Day Goes By and Old Friends.

Musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by George Furth, based on the play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

(In)famously the original New York Broadway production of this musical, directed by Harold Prince, previewed at the Alvin Theatre from 8 October 1981, opened on 16 November 1981, and closed on 28 November 1981 after just 16 'regular' performances. The first major London production took place some thirty years later, at the Donmar Warehouse in 2000.

1988 London Concert at the Shaftesbury Theatre

1997 London Premiere at the Mermaid Theatre Studio

1998 London Revival at the Prince Theatre, Prince Of Orange

2000 London Revival at the Donmar Warehouse

2010 London Concert at the Queen's Theatre

2012 London West End Premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory / Harold Pinter Theatre

The European Premiere of this musical took place in a production presented by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, for 11 performances only - from 11 to 19 May 1983 - in a staging directed by Ian Judge, and a cast that included Hutton Cobb and Michael Cantwell alternating as 'Franklin Shepard', Bernard Wright as 'Charley Kringas', Clare James as 'Mary Flynn', and Jenny Dunbar as 'Gussie Carnegie'.

The European Professional Premiere of this musical took place at the Library Theatre in Manchester - previewed from 27 January 1984, opened on 28 January 1984, and closed on 18 February 1984 - in a staging directed by Howard Lloyd-Lewis, and a cast that included Michael Cantwell as 'Franklin Shepard', Martin George as 'Charley Kringas', Tracie Bennett as 'Mary Flynn', and Maggie Carr as 'Gussie Carnegie'.

Interestingly the actor Michael Cantwell played the role of 'Franklin Shepard' in both the European non-professional Premiere (at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London) in 1983, the European professional Premiere (at the Library Theatre, Manchester) in 1984, and at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester (previewed from 10 April 1992, opened on 14 April 1992, and closed on 9 May 1992), which was recorded and released on CD in 1994.

Stephen Sondheim's other musical seen in London include Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George, Company, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Pacific Overtures, Follies, Saturday Night, West Side Story and Side by Side by Sondheim.

1988 London Concert

Thursday 25 March and Sunday 27 March 1988 at the Shaftesbury Theatre

The cast included Simon Green as 'Franklin Shepard', Evan Pappas as 'Charley Kringas', Gillian Bevan as 'Mary Flynn', Claire Moore as 'Gussie Carnegie', Michael Simkins as 'Joe Josephson', and Deborah Poplett as 'Beth Spencer'.

Directed by Julia McKenzie.

A semi-staged charity concert in aid of the Alan Page Heart Foundation and the Terrance Higgins Trust.

The production on Thursday 25 March 1988 was presented as a stand-alone concert as an 11.15pm 'midnight matinee'.

The production on Sunday 27 March 1988 was presented at 7.30pm as the first half of 'Sunday With Sondheim', with the second half being 'A Celebrity Tribute to Stephen Sondheim'.

The show being presented at the Shaftesbury Theatre at the time of these concerts was Stephen Sondheim's Follies in which Julia McKenzie was starring as 'Sally Plummer', with Simon Green as 'Young Ben', Gillian Bevan as 'Young Phyllis', Deborah Poplett as 'Young Sally', and Evan Pappas as 'Young Buddy'.

The cast of Follies was also originally scheduled to include Alan Page as 'Roscoe', but tragically he collapsed during rehearsals on 4 July 1987, and died the following day in hospital from a fatal heart attack. He was 64-years-old. The Alan Page Heart Foundation was founded by Follies cast member in his memory.

1997 London Premiere

Opened 12 June 1997, Closed 21 June 1997 at the Mermaid Theatre Studio (now closed)

The cast included Nick Bligh as 'Franklin Shepard', Richard Jansen as 'Charley Kringas', and Lucy Waite as 'Mary Flynn'.

Directed by Simon Thomas.

Presented by the Demon Theatre Company.

The Mermaid Studio was a small performance space attached to the Mermaid Theatre in Puddle Dock, adjacent to Blackfriars, in the City of London. It theatre is now used as a conference and events space.

1998 London Revival

Opened 27 May 1998, Closed 21 June 1998 at the Prince Theatre (at Prince Of Orange Pub, now closed)

The cast included Marcus Allen Cooper as 'Franklin Shepard', Marc Joseph as 'Charley Kringas', Tracy Wiles as 'Mary Flynn', and Barbara Hastings as 'Gussie Carnegie'.

Directed by Nick Bligh, with choreography by Darren Royston, and designs by Matthew Attwood.

Presented by Firebrand Productions.

The Prince Theatre was a 62-seater studio theatre located at the Prince of Orange pub - since renamed the St. Christopher's Inn - at 189 Greenwich High Road, adjacent to Greenwich Railway Station. The studio theatre was remodeled, expanded to 84-seats, and was renamed The Greenwich Playhouse. It has since closed with the area being incorporated into the pub.

2000 London Revival

Previewed 1 December 2000, Opened 11 December 2000, Closed 3 March 2001 at the Donmar Warehouse

The cast featured Julian Ovenden as 'Franklin Shepard', Daniel Evans as 'Charley Kringas', Samantha Spiro as 'Mary Flynn', Anna Francolini as 'Gussie Carnegie', James Millard as 'Joe Josephson', Mary Stockley as 'Beth Spencer', Emma Jay Thomas as 'Meg Kincaid', Grant Russell as 'Franklin Shepard (Older)', with Matt Blair, Lucy Bradshaw, Neil Gordon-Taylor, Dean Hussain, David Lucas, Zehra Naqvi, and Shona White.

Directed by Michael Grandage, with choreography by Peter Darling, designs by Christopher Oram, lighting by Tim Mitchell, and sound by Fergus O'Hare.

Daniel Evans' London theatre credits include the roles of 'Patroclus' in Trevor Nunn's revival of William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1999; and the title role in John Caird and Fiona Laird's revival of JM Barrie's Peter Pan at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1997.

Samantha Spiro's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Audrey' in Maria Aitken's revival of William Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in 1992; 'the Courtesan' in Judi Dench's revival of the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical The Boys From Syracuse at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in 1992; and 'Daisy Parke' in Ian Talbot's revival of the George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin musical Lady, Be Good! at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in 1992.

Anna Francolini's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Alice' in Gillian Lynne's production of the Gillian Lynne, Stephen Clark and Chris Walker pantomime Dick Whittington at Sadler's Wells in 1999; 'Marta' in Sam Mendes' revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company at the Donmar Warehouse in 1995, and transfer to the West End's Albery Theatre in 1996; and the ensemble in Sam Mendes' revival of Lionel Bart's Oliver! at the London Palladium in 1994.

"When Stephen Sondheim's college musical was first staged on Broadway in 1981 it failed to make the grade and came to an end after just 18 performances, yet it graduates with honours in the intimate atmosphere of The Donmar... Samantha Spiro gives another great performance as aspiring novelist Mary... Newcomer Julian Ovenden plays songwriter Franklin Shepherd who dumps his pals on the road to fame and fortune, and Daniel Evans completes the trio as curly-haired lyricist Charlie Kringas who ends up coming to blows with his former music partner. Full of rousing choruses, it may not be Sondheim's best but it is still pretty good. In the words of one of the songs: It's A Hit." The Daily Mirror

"Sam Mendes's powerhouse in Covent Garden has presented the show as one of inspirational reverie on whatever happened to talent and friendship as time went by... Michael Grandage's production, designed by Christopher Oram and outstandingly well choreographed by Peter Darling - the small space ignites with serpentine movement and sheer energy- is a triumph. It has charm, technical accomplishment in spades and stunning performances. These come from Daniel Evans as the curly-headed Charley and Samantha Spiro as Mary. But the undoubted star is unknown Julian Ovenden as the composer who becomes a corporation but hangs on to his heart. Sheer musical magic, with wonderful songs and gorgeous moments of sliding into them through Mr Furth's fine dialogue." The Daily Mail

"Watching Michael Grandage's sharp, spare, enjoyable production, it is hard to see why the show caused so much trouble. Indeed, 18 years on, Merrily We Roll Along seems a touch passe rather than dangerous and difficult... Grandage's production is blessed with energy, a sure comic touch and a strong ensemble. Unfortuately the weakest link is Julian Ovenden in the key role of Franklin. Yes, he's an unsympathetic character, but need he also be quite so dull during his years of compromise and bitterness? Ovenden is better as the young Franklin, however, and there's outstanding support from Samantha Spiro as the bright young girl turned cynical old drunk who has always held a torch for him, and Daniel Evans (in a terrible wig) as his endearingly geeky lyricist." The Daily Telegraph

"It's a brillant night out, even if it's not actually a great musical... The theme? Abandoned dreams, faded hopes. But it is so sparkily staged and wittily written that it leaves you feeling dandy, despite the show's stack of ironies and tearful regrets. Julian Ovenden plays the bland songwriter Franklin Shepard, Daniel Evans the shrill, eager lyricist with whom he falls out; There's a cracking performance by Samantha Spiro, who ends up a drunken mm critic but starts out a promising novelist. The choreography is grinningly cheesy, the tunes terrific, the band ace... Michael Grandage directs with passion: a great sweet and sour Christmas musical outing." The Daily Express

Merrily We Roll Along in London at the Donmar Warehouse previewed from 1 December 2000, opened on 11 December 2000, and closed on 3 March 2001

2010 London Concert

31 October 2010 at the Queen's Theatre (now Sondheim Theatre)

The cast featured Julian Ovenden as 'Franklin Shepard', Daniel Evans as 'Charley Kringas', Samantha Spiro as 'Mary Flynn', Anna Francolini as 'Gussie Carnegie', James Millard as 'Joe Josephson', Mary Stockley as 'Beth Spencer', Emma Jay Thomas as 'Meg Kincaid', Grant Russell as 'Franklin Shepard (Older)', with Lucy Bradshaw, Darren Carnall, Dean Hussain, David Lucas, Zehra Naqvi, Stuart Matthew Price, and Suzie Toase.

Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, with lighting by David Plater, and sound by Terry Jardine.

Staged to celebrate Stephen Sondheim's 80th Birthday, this was a semi-staged '10th Anniversary' concert of the 2000 Domar Warehouse staging, featuring many of the original performers.

2012 London West End Premiere

Previewed 16 November 2012, Opened 28 November 2012, Closed 9 March 2013 at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre
Previewed 23 April 2013, Opened 1 May 2013, Closed 27 July 2013 to the Harold Pinter Theatre

The cast at London's Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre, and transfer to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre, featured Mark Umbers as 'Franklin Shepard', Damian Humbley as 'Charley Kringas', Jenna Russell as 'Mary Flynn', Josefina Gabriette as 'Gussie Carnegie', Clare Foster as 'Beth Spencer', Glyn Kerslake as 'Joe Josephson', Zizi Strallen as 'Meg Kinaid', with Matthew Barrow, Martin Callaghan, Bob Harms (Harold Pinter only), Julie Jupp (Harold Pinter only), Elana Martin (Harold Pinter only), Samantha Mercer (Menier Chocolate Factory only), Amanda Minihan, Kirk Patterson, Amy Ellen Richardson, Ashley Robinson, Robbie Scotcher, and Joanna Woodward. Noah Miller, Tommy Rodger, and Joseph West shared the role of 'Frank, Jr.'

Directed by Maria Friedman, with choreography by Tim Jackson, designs by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by David Hersey, and sound by Gareth Owen.

Mark Umbers' London theatre credits include playing the role of 'Jim O'Connor' with Jessica Lange as 'Amanda Wingfield' in Rupert Goold's revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie at the Apollo Theatre in 2007; and the role of 'Freddy Eynsford-Hill' with Martine McCutcheon as 'Eliza Doolittle' and Jonathan Pryce as 'Professor Henry Higgins' in Trevor Nunn's revival of the Lerner and Lowe musical My Fair Lady at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre, and transfer to the West End's Drury Lane Theatre in 2001.

Jenna Russell's London theatre credits include playing the role of 'The Baker's Wife' in Timothy Sheader's revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park in 2010; the role of 'Amy' opposite Felicity Kendal as 'Esme' in Peter Hall's revival of David Hare's play Amy's View at the Garrick Theatre in 2007; the role of 'Sarah' opposite Ewan McGregor as 'Sky Masterson' in Michael Grandage's revival of the Frank Loesser musical comedy Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre in 2005; the role of 'Dot' opposite Daniel Evans as 'Georges' in Sam Buntrock's revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2005; and the role of 'Mrs Darling' in Julia McKenzie and Jonathan Butterell's production of the George Stiles and Anthony Drewe musical version of JM Barrie's Peter Pan at the Royal Festival Hall in 2001.

Josefina Gabrielle's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Nickie'/'Ursala March' in Matthew Wright's revival of the Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields musical Sweet Charity at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2009, and transfer to the West End's Haymarket Theatre in 2010; 'Irene Molly' in Timothy Sheader's revival of Jerry Herman's musical Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park in 2009; 'Kathy Selden' in Paul Kerryson's revival of the Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed musical Singin' In The Rain at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 2004; 'Alexandra Spofford', one of the three witches, in Eric Schaeffer's production of the John Dempsey and Dana Rowe musical The Witches of Eastwick at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2001; 'Laurey' in Trevor Nunn's revival of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 1998, and transfer to the Lyceum Theatre in 1999; 'The Stage Manager' in Rob Bettinson's production of the Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippell musical The Goodbye Girl at the Albery Theatre in 1997; and 'Iris Kelly' in the original cast of Runar Borge's production of Steve Margoshes and Jacques Levy musical Fame at the Cambridge Theatre in 1995.

"A marvellous interpreter of Stephen Sondheim's work in her capacity as a singer and an actress, Maria Friedman now makes her directorial debut and does the composer proud with a thrillingly assured account of one of his most intractably tricky - and rewarding - shows... Friedman doesn't quite solve the problem that Sondheim's music and lyrics are in a different league from George Furth's clunking, preachy dialogue, or that the show's conception of integrity is somewhat cliched. But her production is electrically alive to the lacerating wit and layered irony... It's an acknowledged difficulty with the piece that it's hard to warm to the character of Franklin Shepard, the composer first seen as a rich Hollywood sell-out and adulterous traitor. Friedman gets round this by suggesting, in her version, that the rewind is happening inside the consciousness of Mark Umbers' troubled, charismatic Franklin, with even a hint at the close that it might have been redemptive." The Independent

"Although the sharp juxtapositions of optimism and disillusionment can sting... Maria Friedman’s superb production finds poignancy and heart in Sondheim’s ever-clever score and revels in the waspish humour of George Furth’s book. The opening scene is a magnificently sour bitchfest, led by Jenna Russell’s Mary, booze-bloated and longing for Mark Umbers’s Franklin, while Damian Humbley’s geeky Charley delivers a show-stealing assault on his commercially ambitious pal in the number Franklin Shepard, Inc. Thirty years on and much revised, Sondheim’s famous flop is turning into a sleeper hit." The London Metro

"Merrily We Roll Along bombed when it opened in 1981 but has since been rewritten and reborn as a hit. This revival at the Menier, directed by the singer Maria Friedman, who has starred in several Sondheim shows, is a real cracker, superbly sung, brilliantly acted... Mark Umbers’ dishy Frank is persuasive as the composer who casually cashes in principles and squanders his friendship with Damian Humbley’s decent Charley, while failing to spot that his old friend, Mary, has been madly in love with him forever. Playing Mary, Jenna Russell is outstanding, shedding pounds as surely as she sheds cynicism as the years fall off her. Josefina Gabrielle’s diamond-hard leading lady glitters, in contrast with Clare Foster as Frank’s guileless wife." The Mail on Sunday

Merrily We Roll Along in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 23 April 2013, opened on 1 May 2013 and closed on 27 July 2013.