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Merrily We Roll Along is a Musical with a book by George Furth and lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim. It is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Furth and Sondheim retained the basic structure and overall tone of the play but updated it to encompass the period from 1957 to 1976. The plot focuses on Franklin Shepard, who, in 1976, is a one-time composer of Broadway musicals who has become a highly successful but cynical and jaded film producer who has lost his friends, Charley Kringas (also long-time collaborator) and Mary Flynn. Like the play, the musical moves backwards in time showing how Frank has become the man he is today. The musical closed on Broadway after only 16 performances in 1981 and marked the end of the Harold Prince-Sondheim collaborations until Bounce in 2003.


This musical contains examples of:

  • The Ace: Deconstructed with Frank, especially in "Rich and Happy"/"That Frank" in the new version
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • Back to Front
  • Dark Reprise: Inverted. Since it moves backward chronologically, songs are reprised first, and then used in full during earlier, happier times.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mary, especially early on.
  • Dramatic Irony: A corollary of the Back to Front structure - when the audience sees the characters' relationships developing or at a turning point they've already seen them go wrong. Especially strong and poignant during "Our Time", an inspring and optimistic song in the last (or first) scene when Frank and Charley meet Mary for the first time and they reflect on how their generation will change the world.
  • Engaging Conversation: Subverted--in the final scene (first chronologically), Mary compliments Frank's music, compelling him to say "I've just met the girl I'm going to marry". He never does, however.
  • Hey, It's That Guy! / Hey, It's That Voice!: The original production featured a pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander as Joe.
  • Hollywood Tone Deaf: The auditioning girl in "Opening Doors." "Sopranos with voices like bees" indeed.
  • Lady Drunk: Mary, by the end/beginning.
  • Left It In: Frank shows off a new song he's working on, and after the line "They're always popping their cork", he mutters, "I'll fix that line". He never gets a chance to, because they get a booking and the show with the song in it goes up too quickly.
  • Oblivious to Love: Frank to Mary, even throughout twenty years and two disastrous marriages.
  • Opening Chorus
  • Power Trio:
    • Frank: Id
    • Mary: Ego
    • Charley: Superego
  • Take That, Critics!: Played with when Joe makes the same criticisms of Frank's work that many have made of Sondheim's work.
  • Trade Your Passion for Glory
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "Franklin Shepard Inc."
  • With Friends Like These...: What the relationship between the three friends eventually degrades into.
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