For Jonathan Groff, Merrily We Roll Along Feels Like an Exorcism

[ Written on May 30 2024 by rory ]

When Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince’s Merrily We Roll Along premiered at the Alvin Theater in 1981, it was, by most accounts, a flop, as we say nowadays. For its structural ambitions—the story is told in reverse-chronological order—and its rather bleak prognosis on the corrosive effects of fame and money, the story of three best friends, including the composer-lyricist duo Franklin Shephard and Charley Kringas, and the gradual dissolution of their relationships failed to resonate with audiences and critics like the hot-streak of Sondheim-Prince hits that preceded it, including Company and Sweeney Todd. “What’s really being wasted here is Mr. Sondheim’s talent,” wrote Frank Rich in The New York Times. “And that’s why we watch Merrily We Roll Along with an ever-mounting, and finally upsetting, sense of regret.”

Rich, for his part, was right to point out the show’s elemental sadness. When I left the Hudson Theater last month, where director Maria Friedman has mounted a poignant and utterly contemporary revival starring Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, and Lindsay Mendez, the show’s exhortation to “tend your dreams” was blunted, in part, by its harsh understanding of how people change and money corrupts and friendships splinter. For Groff in particular, who’s earned a Tony Award nomination for his swaggering turn as the prodigious composer Franklin Shepard, the experience of starring in Merrily We Roll Along is provoking a tender sort of reappraisal of the wide-eyed, closeted 20-something who arrived on Broadway two decades ago in Spring Awakening, tending his own dreams. “There’s so many powerful parallels and I’m feeling the opportunity to release a lot of the tension I was holding at that time,” he told me earlier this month over coffee in Greenwich Village (just before showing face at a Tony’s luncheon). “This character feels like an exorcism of the lightest and darkest parts of myself.” With easy candor—and a charm not dissimilar to the kind he demonstrates in the role—Groff opened up about learning to live without shame and what Looking, the polarizing HBO series he starred in from 2014 to 2016, taught him about show business.

Read the full interview at Interview Magazine

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