A gem of a play has been revived for a short run at the Spokane Civic Theatre

The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along,” a Spokane Civic Theatre production, will take the stage this weekend.

When “Merrily We Roll Along,” debuted in 1934 and hit Broadway in 1981, the play, which is an inspired story about the lives and friendships of three friends over a 20-year period, flopped.

A number of critics of both productions pointed to how confusing going back and forth eras was for the audience. However, recent revivals, on London’s West End and On and Off Broadway, have featured updated versions of the show, which is easier to follow.

The Spokane Civic Theatre is featuring a revamped take on “Merrily We Roll Along,” which is slated for Friday through Sunday.

“The play is very challenging but brilliantly written,” Spokane Civic Theatre director Jean Hardie said. “It was difficult years ago for the audience to follow. But the version we’re doing is cleaner and crisper.

“We also have graphics telling the audience what year we’re in. We don’t want the audience to sit there confused. The way it’s set up now works, so the audience can stay engaged even when the play jumps around.”

The poignant and compelling work was created by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. After a brief run 90 years ago, an idea from iconic theatrical director Hal Prince’s wife Judy, who suggested a work about teenagers entering the world of entertainment, revived the play. Hal Prince decided to dust off “Merrily We Roll Along” in 1980 and he floated the idea to his frequent collaborator, Stephen Sondheim, who agreed to write the music and lyrics. George Furth (“Getting Away with Murder,” “Twigs”) wrote the book.

Poor reviews led to a brief run of 60 performances. However, throughout the years, with Furth’s and Sondheim’s permission, the musical has been staged with numerous changes. New songs from Sondheim updated the production.

“Sondheim’s music is brilliant,” Hardie said. “Some of the prettiest songs Sondheim ever wrote are in ‘Merrily We Roll Along.’

“We have a 15-piece orchestra on the stage. It’s not a concert, but they get to cut loose and they add so much to the production.”

“Merrily We Roll Along” is a lively show following young, ambitious and starry-eyed fledgling entertainers pursuing their dream. Each of the three characters do their best to attract an agent, get their foot in the door of a very competitive business and land their big break. The play shows that in many ways the business hasn’t changed in 90 years.

“What surprised me when I first read the play is that it’s kind of a downer,” Hardie said. “These people are so unhappy. But there are shreds of joy and fun.

“It’s a worthwhile show that has its ups and downs that is so well-written with wonderful songs.”

If You Go

‘Merrily We Roll Along’

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Spokane Civic Theatre, 1020 N. Howard St.

Cost: $38, $33 for seniors 65 and older; $15 for students ages 6-25

Info: (509) 325-2507, www.spokanecivictheatre.com


Article by Ed Condran

Photo by Chris Wooley, Heads & Tails Photography

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