Sondheim's Next Show Will Go Backwards!

Categories: Theater

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One of the great Stephen Sondheim's few missteps--1981's Merrily We Roll Along--boldly uses a time structure that goes backwards, starting with the present and progressing (or regressing) back to the roots of the relationships.

I always found that device deeply annoying, requiring way too much brain work for the payoff, and coming off like a high-toned, Pinteresque gimmick that gets in the way of the show's success.

Well, Sondheim is finally writing another original show (his last one was 2003's Bounce) and it's going to go backwards in time like Merrily!

No!!!

According to a London Times interview with the composer,

"All Together Now, which he is composing with David Ives (Venus in Fur), is based on a 'small moment' in a past Ives play and focuses on 'two people and what goes into their relationship', Sondheim says.

"He began working on it in 1991; similar in structure to Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, it follows the story of a relationship backwards: from the present to the first meeting.

" 'I'm a procrastinator,' Sondheim admits with his affable growl. 'We'll write for a couple of months, then have a workshop. It seemed experimental and fresh 20 years ago. I have a feeling it may not be experimental and fresh any more'."

No kidding!

I adore you, Steve, but I wish we could time-travel back to 1991 and start you working on something else!

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10 comments
VonD
VonD

Oh, please, Stephen, drop this backwards-moving gimmick. I know it'll probably work out musically, but in terms of the plot, probably not so much. I do love Follies, though, which shuttles back and forth between past and present. The structure works for that piece, and it has some great set pieces and songs. Merrily, not so merrily, not so much.

Nonplussed
Nonplussed

I love that he can't not work. How lucky have we been to have an artist of his calibre in our lifetimes?

Allen Firth
Allen Firth

Sondheim made an interesting comment long ago about the structure of "Merrily."  If you take the songs and play them in reverse order, you will actually hear how every songs evolves from the previous one.... "The Hills of Tomorrow" influences the successive songs of Franklin Shepherd Inc.  It's one interesting way to play the original cast album -- program the songs in reverse order.

Still, it is a ultimately a depressing show.  We all have such dream of a fabulous future, a great life, "Rich and Happy," only to find compromises have to be made along the way.  "Merrily," in its structure, reinforces that, comparing the promising "Our Time" and "Hills of Tomorrow" to the sad cyncism of "Rich and Happy."

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

"It seemed experimental and fresh 20 years ago"?

The musical "Merrily We Roll Along" was based on the 1934 play "Merrily We Roll Along" by Kaufman & Hart. Its story was basically the same one -- arty types sacrificing integrity for moola. It was told backwards and it was a flop, too.

Bwaybill
Bwaybill

I wish he would work on something that  could actually get to broadway and be a success for him!

rolph
rolph

"Merrily" was just revived at Encores. From what I heard, I think the backwards time gimmick was still a problem.

VonD
VonD

Many girl, many.

DickC
DickC

..................................................yup.............................................

Bwaybill
Bwaybill

It's a good point Sondheim made but if the SHOW went in the reverse order than what it goes in--i.e., moving forward in time--we'd hear how every song evolves form the previous one, and we wouldn't have to deal with the gimmick.

Daniel Savio
Daniel Savio

But it becomes a worthless, banal story about friends who grow apart and become jerks.

It's much better the way it was written.

I don't find it depressing, sad yes, but not depressing.

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