(Stephen Holden’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/17; via Pam Green.)
I was one of the few to see the original production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” which opened on Broadway in 1981 and, having received mostly catastrophic reviews, closed after 16 performances. On the night I saw it, the audience response was polite but halfhearted because by then it was already a certified flop.
The buildup to the opening of a musical that everyone expected would be a hit and the subsequent crash are movingly chronicled in Lonny Price’s documentary, “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.” The show, produced and directed by Harold Prince, had first-rate songs by Stephen Sondheim in the brassy mainstream Broadway tradition, and a clever book by George Furth, who had been the librettist for “Company.”
Expectations were especially high because “Merrily” was the follow-up to Mr. Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sweeney Todd.” How could it fail? The abrupt letdown was a brutal shock to everyone involved, and resulted in the severing of the seemingly unbreakable Sondheim-Prince collaboration.