Skip to content




Stephen Sondheim is getting closer to breaking his own record.

His 1964 musical ANYONE CAN WHISTLE ran a mere nine performances but has received three cast albums. First, the one with the original cast, then a 1995 concert recording (both of which are on Masterworks Broadway) and a 2020 studio cast recording.

No musical that suffered so short a run has had so many recordings. Or, to put it another way, WHISTLE has averaged three performances per recording.

In 1981, Sondheim’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG ran 16 performances. Yet it too yielded an original cast album. It was followed by recordings from the 1992 Leicester Haymarket production, the 1994 York Theatre revival and the 2012 staged concert at City Center’s Encores!

With the recent release of the 2023 revival cast album on Masterworks Broadway, MERRILY has now had five recordings. And five into 16 results in an average of 3.2 performances per recording.

Like Charlotte in Sondheim’s A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, it’s gaining.

And who says that this latest one will be the last? Look at the resiliency that MERRILY has shown since its much-maligned original production. If all goes as planned with the film version that is being shot over 20 years, in 2039 there’ll at least be a sixth recording thanks to the soundtrack.

For now, there are five. So, what’s noteworthy about this 2023 recording that’s going to make you take the fifth?

Well, there is the world-famous Daniel Radcliffe. He’s top-billed, although he plays the secondary lead: Charley Kringas, the frustrated bookwriter-lyricist whose partner, composer Franklin Shepard, now spends more time writing contracts than music.

Radcliffe amuses when Charley auditions for a producer the new song that he and Frank have just finished: “Who Wants to Live in New York?” It catalogues the reasons to avoid the city: “The worry, the noise, the dirt, the heat.” Then comes the change of heart: “But ever since I met you, I –” And although he’s interrupted right there by unfeeling producer Joe Josephson, we know where he was going.

In the original production, Harold Prince directed Lonny Price to become demoralized by Josephson’s breaking in. Here Maria Friedman has instead made Radcliffe’s Charley staunch and resolute.

Charley’s “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” is a difficult and dazzling showpiece, alternating observations with sounds that range from barely human to technological. Radcliffe makes it look easy. Not only on film has he proved to be a wizard, but he’s also one when it comes to musical theater.

Franklin is portrayed by Jonathan Groff. On GLEE, he played Jesse St. James and stole the show. To us, however, Groff is better-known to us as the two-time Tony nominee in two Tony-winning musicals: SPRING AWAKENING and HAMILTON.

Groff has an underbelly of sadness even in his first go-round of “Old Friends.” There may be trouble ahead, and he can predict it more than his buddies. That’s why Sondheim later wrote “Growing Up” for him, to let us see what he’s really feeling after his friends leave the apartment. Groff does a good job when singing “Frank will, too” as his referring to himself in the third person shows that his ego is starting to swell.

The third performer billed above the title wound up on the stage of Radio City Music Hall in 2018 winning and spinning a Tony for her Carrie in CAROUSEL. She’s Lindsay Mendez, who now plays Charley and Frank’s good friend Mary Flynn.

Mendez gives a sad little laugh when she first asks Old Friend Charley to “Make it okay.” When she segues into “Like It Was,” she almost whispers her first “Charley” to show how both sincere and needy she is. In “Now You Know,” the way she delivers the word “illusion” is an unmitigated delight.

Yet her best moment comes in “Old Friends” during the section where the three squabble and may soon escalate matters into a genuine fight. Once they realize that they’re getting in too deep and they’d better stop battling, the response that Mendez gives is bound to make you laugh.

So, there are your leads. To paraphrase a lyric that’s sung near the end of the show, all are good-looking and young and rich (although one, I’m sure, is richer than the other two).

As for the musical itself, for the longest time it hasn’t resembled what was originally produced on 52nd Street. Many who saw it then and loved it (and such people did exist) have mourned the loss of the graduation framing device and the scuttling of Frank’s claim that he’s “Rich and Happy.” But just as Frank asks himself “Why is it that old friends don’t want old friends to change?”, we can ask it of those original MERRILY fans.

Keep in mind, too, that these eliminations as well as several additions weren’t made by newcomers who fooled around with dead writers’ property. Sondheim and librettist George Furth took a long look at the show after its abrupt closing; they felt that yesterday was gone and that they did not want it the way that it was.

So, the Overture doesn’t have “Rich and Happy,” but centers more on “Now You Know.” That almost becomes a comment on MERRILY’s history. To all you critics and audiences that dispensed so much hatred 42 years ago, well, now you know, don’t you, that this musical has many assets.

Instead of Frank’s bragging that he’s “Rich and Happy,” we hear much more from his party guests in “That Frank.” One compliments his “head for business,” which had brought matters to a head between him and Charley. The song does makes room for a funny line: Frank “has a wife who is gorgeous and a son who’s straight.” In most American homes, a straight son would be a given, but this is Hollywood, after all.

The performer who’s benefited the most from the many changes over the years is the one chosen to play Gussie. One could say that Sondheim and Furth, by giving her three solos and one reprise, really gussied up the show.

Gussie was once simply “the girl” – the secretary/receptionist – in Josephson’s office. Certainly, many a young woman has taken just such a job in hopes that the producer will one day see something in her and set her on the road to becoming a star.

And a star Gussie becomes, of Josephson’s production of Shepard and Kringas’ palpable hit MUSICAL HUSBANDS. Krystal Joy Brown is sultry in all she sings.

Notice, too, that the song mirrors what’s happening in real life between her and Frank. Not that we didn’t see it coming. At her big party when she introduces the songwriters, she refers to Frank as “the best composer ever” and doesn’t mention Charley at all.

“Not a Day Goes By” was conceived to be a second-act song that Frank and Beth sang to show their devotion. Eventually it entered the first act, too, with Beth, Frank’s first wife, singing it alone.

When Katie Rose Clarke does the solo, she sounds so exhausted on that first “by” in the title line that she immediately gets our sympathy: we can tell just from that one word all that she’s endured. Bit by bit, though, she regains her strength and anger and brings the number to a dramatic conclusion.

Clarke is so effective when she’s part of the “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” trio that we might wonder what heights she might have hit as a performer had she not opted to become a wife and mother.

Most shows fade or they don’t make the grade, but MERRILY now receives an A-plus from many theatergoers. This recording will be a nice alternative for those who can’t get to New York – or for those who’ll opt to pay their rent or mortgage instead of shelling out the $899 that a premium seat demands. To ask Joe Josephson’s question in a different context about this revival cast album, “Will you listen to that?”

Yes, you will.

Now you know.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.