How to Stream Merrily We Roll Along - The Lost Archive

How to Stream Merrily We Roll Along - The Lost Archive

Is Sondheim's filmed stage production of Merrily We Roll Along lost forever? Having a Broadway show filmed for release is an uphill battle - from budgets that can compete with the original capitalization for the stage show, to complex contracts with multiple unions that all have to green-lit the expensive capture.

While over 150 Broadway productions were filmed to date, a sizeable portion of them has either only managed to reach agreements for very limited releases or got lost forever due to expired distribution rights.

From one-night cinema showings to limited TV airings, our Lost Archive looks at all the shows that spent millions on being professionally filmed - but have been long lost. We detail the history of each production and try to understand the reasoning behind the limited release, and ultimately try to locate the lost recordings.

This week we're looking at Sondheim's infamous Merrily We Roll Along:



Based on George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s play of the same name, ​Merrily We Roll Along is Stephen Sondheim’s second collaboration with writer George Furth following their huge success with Company in 1970.

The musical adaptation relocated the story to the 1980s, with most of the characters changed while using the same backbone: a group of close friends trying to make a living as artists. Their hopes and dreams are being told in a unique way with the musical starting out in the present and slowly moving backwards to the group's graduation day.

With a cast mostly made up of teenagers, the show opened cold on Broadway in November 1981 under the direction of Hal Prince. Budget restrictions prevented the show from having a proper out-of-town tryout, which left most of the re-writing to previews at Broadway's Alvin Theatre (now The Neil Simon Theatre).



The production eventually had an extended preview period of more than 50 "tryout performances" on Broadway, with audience reactions being mostly negative - audience members were famously leaving the theater in the middle of the performance.

The troubled preview period saw many changes to the show: leading man James Weissenbach was replaced by Jim Walton and a new choreographer was brought on board, causing the Broadway opening to get postponed multiple times. Years later, Sondheim mentioned that the month of trying to "fix" the show was one of the most exciting periods in his life.

A notable design choice on Broadway was having the whole cast dressed in the same sweatshirts - a decision that ultimately left audiences confused with trouble following the plot. Director Hal Prince ended up having the characters names printed on the sweatshirts.

When the show eventually opened on November 16, 1981, critics tore the show apart - mostly for its inconsistent book. Sondheim's score was praised and highlighted.

Frank Rich for The New York Times famously said: "As we all should probably have learned by now, to be a Stephen Sondheim fan is to have one's heart broken at regular intervals". He added that Sondheim "has given this evening a half-dozen songs that are crushing and beautiful - that soar and linger and hurt. But the show that contains them is a shambles."



Following the negative reviews from critics, and with audiences not filling the large Alvin Theatre, it was decided to close the show after just 16 regular performances. The failure of the Broadway production also meant the successful Sondheim-Prince partnership was to take a hiatus, with the two not collaborating on projects until their 2003 production of Bounce. 

Over the years, Sondheim and Furth continued re-writing the book and score, and Merrily We Roll Along ended up played multiple regional productions in the United States, and around the world to much success.

In 2016, original cast member Lonny Price directed a documentary titled "Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened", describing the experience of mounting the Broadway production. 



The Menier Chocolate Factory in London produced a revival of Merrily We Roll Along in 2012 which became such a big hit that Sondheim himself called it "the best production of the show" he's ever seen.

The critics were equally fascinated by the new production, with the musical receiving more five-star reviews than any other production in West End history.

In her Guardian review, Lyn Gardner said: "A flawed diamond, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1981 musical flop polishes up beautifully in this revival by Maria Friedman. The show is so astute, it's hard to believe this story of three friends – creative types who start out wanting to change the world but must face up to the disillusionments of middle age – originally crashed and burned on Broadway."



Following a sold-out run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the production transferred to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre to huge critical success - leading up to the show winning the 2014 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival.



Digital Theatre (Producers of the filmed productions of Funny Girl and the Into the Woods revival) went on to film the production in its last couple of performances in the West End, releasing the capture to cinemas in 2014 and later on to streaming.

The filmed production stars Mark Umbers as Franklin Shepard, Damian Humbley as Charley Kringas and Tony nominee Jenna Russell as Mary Flynn. Also in featured roles are Clare Foster, Josefina Gabrielle, Glyn Kerslake and Zizi Strallen.

Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman directed the production, both on stage and for the film capture.

In March 2022 it was announced Daniel Radcliffe will lead a New York production of Merrily We Roll Along at the New York Theatre Workshop - produced by special arrangements with Sonia Friedman Productions and the Menier Chocolate Factory. The New York production will be directed by Friedman again and will revive the 2013 UK production that was filmed. 



How to watch "Merrily We Roll Along" today?

Following its global cinema release in 2014, the musical was released to streaming via DigitalTheatre in the US and UK for nearly a year. The theatre streaming site had to take down the film from its platform in October 2014 due to the expiration of its licensing agreements with the creators.

DigitalTheatre held a final online global "watch-along" in October of that year and removed the capture from its site shortly after.

Experts from the filmed production can be found on popular video sites, while the complete production is not available at this point for streaming due to the expired distribution rights.