Sondheim's Legendary Merrily Comes to the Huntington

BOSTON, MA: The Huntington Theatre Company will open its 2017-2018 season with the legendary musical Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim. Director Maria Friedman will recreate her critically celebrated West End production for Boston audiences. Performances will run September 8 – October 15, 2017 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. The musical includes a book by George Furth. Music direction will be provided by Matthew Stern (The Bridges of Madison County and The Scottsboro Boys at SpeakEasy Stage Company) and choreography by Tim Jackson (Merrily We Roll Along in the West End).

Maria Friedman’s stunning London production of Merrily We Roll Along received universal rave reviews – the most five star reviews in West End history – as well as the Olivier Award for Best Musical and high praise from Stephen Sondheim himself. Travelling backwards in time over 30 years in the entertainment business, this cult favorite musical charts the relationships of close friends Franklin, Charley, and Mary, and features some of Sondheim’s most beautiful songs, including “Good Thing Going,” “Old Friends,” and “Not a Day Goes By. The Independent called Friedman’s production of Merrily We Roll Along "one of the great musical productions of this or any other era."

“After seeing Maria Friedman’s stunning staging of Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, I knew I had to share this tremendous production with Boston,” says Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “Maria has captured lightning in a bottle, turning a musical long beloved by Sondheim geeks into an international hit. I can’t wait for her to recreate the definitive and mesmerizing version of Merrily for Boston audiences with the best of Boston, New York, and international talent. Put this show on the calendar in pen!”

“This production of Merrily We Roll Along is not only the best I've seen, but one of those rare instances where casting, direction, and show come together in perfect combination, resulting in the classic ideal of the sum being greater than the parts,” says Stephen Sondheim of Maria Friedman’s London production.

The Huntington Theatre Company is committed to a long-term project of staging all 15 musicals for which Sondheim wrote both the music and the lyrics. Merrily We Roll Along is the third musical to be staged in the series, following last fall’s sublime production of Sunday in the Park with George and the 2015 production of A Little Night Music. “Like our commitment to August Wilson and producing all the plays in his Century Cycle, the Huntington is thrilled to take a deep dive into Sondheim’s body of work,” says Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “Sondheim is the great musical theatre genius of a generation, and producing and presenting his work on the Huntington’s stages will provide a tremendous and remarkable experience for Boston audiences.”

Merrily We Roll Along features a live orchestra of nine musicians with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and an award-winning cast of Boston favorites and first-rate international musical theatre artists. The show follows the lives of three close friends — Frank Shepard, an influential song writer and film producer, lyricist Charley Kringas, and theatre critic Mary Flynn. Mark Umbers (She Loves Me at Menier Chocolate Factory) and Damian Humbley (Forbidden Broadway in the West End) will reprise their roles from Maria Friedman’s London production playing Frank and Charley, respectively, and Eden Espinosa (Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway and San Francisco and Los Angeles productions) joins the cast as Mary.

Frank’s second wife Gussie is played by Aimee Doherty (A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George at the Huntington). Gussie’s first husband, Broadway producer Joe Josephson, is played by Christopher Chew (Amphitryon at the Huntington and Bridges of Madison County at SpeakEasy Stage Company).

Frank’s first wife Beth Spencer is played by Jennifer Ellis (The Bridges of Madison County at SpeakEasy Stage Company). Frank Jr., the eight-year-old son of Frank and Beth, is played by Cameron Levesque (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at Fiddlehead Theatre) and Brendan Cole O’Brien (Show Boat at Fiddlehead Theatre) at alternating performances. Beth’s mother, Mrs. Spencer, is played by Amy Barker (A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George at the Huntington) and Beth’s father, Mr. Spencer, is played by Robert Saoud (A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Huntington). Ceit Zweil (Mame at Stoneham Theatre) plays Charley’s wife Evelyn.

Other cast members include Jessica Kundla (Sunday in the Park with George at the Huntington) as Meg, Maurice Emmanuel Parent (A Raisin in the Sun at the Huntington and The Scottsboro Boys at SpeakEasy Stage Company) as Bunker, Rebecca Gibel (Camelot at Trinity Repertory Company) as KT, Pablo Torres (A Little Night Music at the Huntington) as Ru, Patrick Varner (A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George at the Huntington) as Tyler, Craig Walezkao (Kinky Boots first national tour) as Jerome, and Morgan Kirner (Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music at the Huntington) as the newscaster. Caleb Damschroder (Cabaret on Broadway), Bransen Gates (Barnum at Moonbox Productions), and Carla Martinez (Barnum at Moonbox Productions) round out the ensemble.

Merrily We Roll Along features scenic and costume design by Soutra Gilmour (Antigone at the National Theatre), and lighting design by Philip Rosenberg (Can You Forgive Her?, Betrayal, Private Lives, Bus Stop, and She Loves Me at the Huntington). Production stage manager is Emily F. McMullen and stage manager is Kevin Schlagle.

Stephen Sondheim (Composer and lyricist) is an American musical theatre legend and Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Award winner. He wrote the music and lyrics for Road Show, Passion, Assassins, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Pacific Overtures, The Frogs, A Little Night Music, Follies, Company, Anyone Can Whistle, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, as well as the lyrics for West Side Story, Gypsy, Do I Hear a Waltz?, and additional lyrics for Candide. Anthologies of his work include Side by Side by Sondheim, Marry Me a Little, You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow, Putting It Together, and Sondheim on Sondheim. He composed the film scores of Stavisky and Reds, songs for Dick Tracy, and the television production Evening Primrose. His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat. In 2010 the Broadway theatre formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed in his honor.

Maria Friedman (Director) made her directorial debut with her highly acclaimed production of Merrily We Roll Along which opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in November 2012 and transferred to the West End in May 2013. The production won Best Musical at the Evening Standard Awards in 2013, Oliver Awards in 2014 (for which Ms. Friedman was also nominated for Best Director of a Musical), and the Critic’s Circle Award in 2013. She went on to direct High Society at The Old Vic in 2015, which was equally well received and then directed Stepping Out which toured in 2016, opening in the West End in the spring of 2017. Ms. Friedman is best known as a three-time Olivier Award-winning star of the musical stage. The heart of her career has been centered around the love and work of her dear friend Stephen Sondheim. She has played Dot in Sunday in the Park with George at the National Theatre, Fosca in Passion at the Queen’s Theatre (Olivier Award), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd at the Royal Festival Hall with Bryn Terfel, and Mary in Merrily We Roll Along at the Leicester Haymarket. In concert she has played Sally in Follies and both Charlotte and Petra in A Little Night Music. Ms. Friedman was honored to sing for Stephen Sondheim at his 80th birthday celebrations in New York and Washington, as well as at the special all-Sondheim BBC Prom. Her many international concert appearances include three sell-out seasons at New York’s prestigious Café Carlyle, and many concerts with Michael Legrand and the late Marvin Hamlisch. Most recently, she premiered her new cabaret show Lenny and Steve with musical director Jason Carr at the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room. Her most recent recording is Maria Friedman Sings the Great British Songbook (on Sepia Records). In addition to winning three Olivier Awards, she has received nine Olivier Award nominations and has won an Evening Standard Award.

George Furth (Book) was born in Chicago, received his bachelors’ degree at Northwestern School of Speech, and went to Columbia for his graduate work. Having acted in 40 movies and countless television shows, he went on to write Company, Twigs, The Act, The Supporting Cast, Merrily We Roll Along, and Precious Sons. His other work includes The Doctor is Out, a mystery he collaborated on with Stephen Sondheim, seven one-act plays entitled Sex (7), and a musical entitled Off the Record with music by Doug Katsaros. Mr. Furth won a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama-Logue, and London Evening Standard Awards.

Tim Jackson (Choreographer) has worked extensively in the UK. In addition to Merrily We Roll Along (Menier Chocolate Factory, West End and film release), his credits include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (children’s musical direction and additional movement, West End), Stepping Out (Theatre Royal Bath, West End, and UK tour), the Olivier Awards Ceremony 2016-2017 (musical staging, Royal Opera House and Royal Albert Hall), Oliver! (Watermill Theatre), The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ (Leicester Curve), Little Shop of Horrors (Royal Exchange Manchester), Made in Dagenham (Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, and New Wolsey Theatre), Much Ado About Nothing (Queen’s Theatre and Hornchurch), If I (Aoyama Theatre, Tokyo, Umeda Arts Theatre, and Osaka), Frisky & Mannish: Just Too Much (Udderbelly and Edinburgh Fest), and The Beautiful Game and Pages: Promised Land (Union Theatre). Mr. Jackson also works as a director, musical director, and composer.

The Huntington Theatre Company is Boston’s leading professional theatre and one of the region’s premier cultural assets since its founding in 1982. Recipient of the 2013 Regional Theatre Tony Award, the Huntington brings together superb local and national talent and produces a mix of groundbreaking new works and classics made current to create award-winning productions. The Huntington runs nationally renowned programs in education and new play development and serves the local theatre community through its operation of the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. The Huntington has long been an anchor cultural institution of Huntington Avenue, the Avenue of the Arts, and will remain so on a permanent basis with plans to convert the Huntington Avenue Theatre into a first-rate, modern venue with expanded services to audiences, artists, and the community. Under the direction of Artistic Director Peter DuBois and Managing Director Michael Maso, the Huntington cultivates, celebrates, and champions theatre as an art form. For more information, visit www.huntingtontheatre.org