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The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Performance Review: Broadway’s ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ stuns with star cast, gorgeous score

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“Merrily We Roll Along” takes audiences on an emotional journey spanning 20 years. (Photo courtesy of Playbill)

Harry Potter, King George III and the Wicked Witch of the West walk onto a Broadway stage — a set up to a bad joke or an incredible musical?

“Merrily We Roll Along,” the latest Stephen Sondheim musical to be revived on the Broadway stage, answers this question with a star-studded cast lead by Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez.

“Merrily We Roll Along” is notoriously a Sondheim flop, especially when compared to his instant classics “West Side Story” and “Into the Woods.” Its initial Broadway run in 1981 consisted of only 16 performances. Maria Friedman, director of the 2023 Broadway revival production turned the show into an astonishing example of musical excellence.

Beginning in 1976 in Los Angeles, the musical moves backward in time to tell the story of the tumultuous and ultimately doomed friendship between Frank (Groff), Charley (Radcliffe) and Mary (Mendez). The musical ends where their friendship begins: a New York City rooftop in 1957.

Before going to see this production, I did not know anything about “Merrily We Roll Along,” and I am glad about that. Since the story already reveals so much in its opening number, I believe the best way to go into this piece is to be completely oblivious about everything else. Every sentence, every note and every movement is returned to by the show’s end; it can only truly be appreciated if you go in blind and discover the show’s secrets with the rest of the audience.

If a four minute overture does not make it obvious, this musical is a masterclass in epic Broadway productions and musical craftsmanship making it the perfect tribute to Sondheim, the prolific composer and lyricist who died in 2021. The grandness of the band and the intricacies of the lyrics take what might seem to be a simple and contained story to another level. My favorite moments occurred during the transitions between time jumps when the entire ensemble sang perfectly overlapped vocals over the show’s main theme.

Jonathan Groff is a national treasure. A certified Broadway legend with a resume including Disney’s “Frozen” (Buck and Lee, 2013), Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” and, of course, an especially memorable performance as Jesse St. James in “Glee,” Groff was born to be on the stage. He is captivating, polished and insufferable in the best way. His vocal and acting skills cannot be properly translated through a screen, and I got chills every time he came on stage. I am begging for an official recording of Groff singing “Growing Up.”

While I think it is incredibly unfair for anyone to have to sing next to a talent like Groff, Daniel Radcliffe holds his own as one of the comedic and emotional hearts of the show. It is hard to shake the “Harry Potter is literally in the same room as me right now” thoughts, but once you get past that it becomes clear that this was not a case of stunt casting — he is phenomenal. Radcliffe delivers one of the best and most technically difficult songs in the entire production: a tongue-twisting, fast-paced patter song called “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” 

Unfortunately, I did not get to see Lindsay Mendez as Mary; however, her understudy Jamila Sabares-Klemm provided an electric performance. Her vocals were both ethereal and powerful, especially in “Not a Day Goes By (Reprise),” a poignant song that outlines Mary’s emotional journey in a rare instance of the character caring about her own feelings instead of being consumed by Frank’s and Charley’s. Mary’s path in the musical is arguably the most heartbreaking of them all, and Sabares-Klemm was able to capture that pain and hand it to the audience via a stellar performance.

The entire musical rides on the chemistry between the three leads. Despite performing this over two and a half hour show eight times a week, Groff, Radcliffe and Sabares-Klemm were electric and looked like they were having fun, which made them so enjoyable to watch. They were not only believable as friends but seemed to have known each other their whole lives.

“Merrily We Roll Along” is a beautiful, heartfelt and somewhat tragic journey. I laughed, I cried and I have not stopped thinking about this show since I saw it. This production closes on March 24, 2024 and I encourage everyone to try and catch this Broadway feat while they still can.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Gaglione, Culture Editor
Isabella Gaglione (she/her) is a junior English and Film & Media Studies double major from Long Island, New York. The Lafayette's resident Taylor Swift Reporter. 

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    MaddieNov 10, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    Bella, you are the best review writer ever. I’m so consistently impressed by you!

    Reply