Tag Archives: “Merrily We Roll Along”

“Merrily” Broadway Star Boosts Staples Players’ Show

It wasn’t easy.

Serial snowstorms knocked out crucial rehearsals. Plus there were the normal teenage challenges of putting on a complex show, alongside the usual demands of school, family and social life.

But Staples Players has scored another success with “Merrily We Roll Along.” Opening weekend audiences loved the troupe’s interpretation of the 1981 Stephen Sondheim musical — based on a 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — that Players first staged in 2003.

Senior Charlie Zuckerman plays Charley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and former best friend of Frank (the lead character, played by Nick Rossi).

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Lonny Price originated the role of Charley on Broadway. It ran for only 16 performances, and 52 previews. But “Merrily” has since taken on a life of its own. Audiences have learned to love its intricacies.

And in 2016 Price directed “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened,” a documentary about “Merrily”‘s original Broadway production, and the hopeful young performers whose lives were transformed by it.

Price’s documentary was named one of the New York Times’ top 10 films of 2016.

Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, and Jim Walton in “Merrily We Roll Along,” and today. (Right photo/ Martha Swope; left picture/Bruce David Klein)

Price will be in the audience for this Friday’s Staples production (March 23, 7:30 p.m.). Afterward, he’ll lead Players’ first-ever talkback. Audience members are encouraged to stay, and enjoy insights from the Broadway icon.

In addition to his “Merrily” and “Best Worst Thing” credits, Price directed Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard,” “Audra McDonald in “110 in the Shade,” and Danny Glover in “‘Master Harold’ … and the Boys.” He’s a 3-time Emmy winner.

Price also collaborated with Westporter Andrew Wilk — executive producer of “Live From Lincoln Center” — on broadcasts of “Camelot,” “Candide” and “Sweeney Todd.” For years, he has heard Wilk rave about the high quality of Players’ productions.

Now he’ll see for himself.

“Andrew has excellent taste,” Price says. “So when he asked me to check out their production of ‘Merrily,’ I was eager to see their take on a show that has meant so much to me for the last 37 years.”

You’ll be inspired by “Merrily We Roll Along.” You’ll love Lonny Price’s talkback.

And if you want to get the most out of both, you can watch “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” on Netflix — or right here:

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets. A few tickets may be available in the lobby at 7 p.m.)

Merrily, Staples Players Roll Along

Justin Paul was a Broadway composer. Collaborating with his best friend, he was hailed for his talent and creativity.

Over the years though, Justin made choices that took him away from his dream of writing songs that made a difference. He let his friends down, sold out, and became just another Hollywood producer.

That’s a true story. Fortunately, the only connection Justin Paul has with it is that the composer is a character he once played.

As a high school senior in 2003, Justin was Frank in Staples Players’ production of “Merrily We Roll Along.” It was a great, complex role, for a talented actor.

For the 2003 production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” Justin Paul (left) and Trey Skinner posed for this photo. It was projected on the Staples stage between scenes, showing changes in characters’ lives. Amazingly, the Music Box Theatre is once again part of Justin Paul’s life: It’s the home of his blockbuster show, “Dear Evan Hansen.”

But Justin was even more talented as a songwriter. At the University of Michigan, he met another very passionate theater major. He and Benj Pasek bonded over their shared love for — you can’t make this stuff up — “Merrily.”

Fast forward more than a decade. Pasek and Paul are now the hottest songwriting team in Hollywood (“The Greatest Showman,” “La La Land”) and on Broadway (“Dear Evan Hansen”).

In fact, the first chapter in a new coffee table book about “Evan Hansen” details that first-year Sondheim experience in Ann Arbor.

Now fast forward even more. Staples Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long are reprising “Merrily We Roll Along.”

And once again, Justin Paul plays a key role.

No, he’s not onstage. But last Friday he visited with the cast and crew. He sat in on rehearsal. And when the curtain goes up later this month, he’ll be in the audience.

Charlie Zuckerman, Avery Mendillo and Nick Rossi perform “Old Friends” in “Merrily We Roll Along.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

“Merrily” is an intriguing show. The story is told backwards. It begins as Frank looks back regretfully on the choices he made. Each subsequent scene takes place several years before the previous one. Each reveals the process behind those choices.

The cast began rehearsing the show in the opposite direction — going forward. “It’s really important for the kids to understand the changes their characters go through, over 20 years,” Roth explains. “That way they can get a grasp on the aging process.”

He notes that the original Broadway cast was all between 17 and 20 years old. That’s close to the age of his Staples students.

“It’s poignant that our kids are at a point in their lives when they still have dreams — and can actually accomplish them,” Roth says.

Avery Mendillo, Nick Rossi, Charlie Zuckerman and the “Merrily We Roll Along” ensemble. (Photo/Kerry Long)

‘Merrily We Roll Along” is, he adds, “a cautionary tale. The message is: Keep an eye on your dreams. That’s what Kerry and I feel is so awesome about the play. It makes you realize you can lose your dreams. But you don’t have to.”

The 2003 production — with Justin Paul — was powerful. Several theatergoers told Roth that the show had made them take a serious look at their own lives. “The power of theater is really amazing,” he notes.

So is the power of Staples Players.

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and $10 for seniors (matinee only). For tickets and more information, click here.)

Justin Paul Returns To His Roots

One of the pivotal moments in Justin Paul’s life came when he played Frank, the lead role in “Merrily We Roll Along.” Stephen Sondheim’s complex, intriguing play helped Justin — a Staples High School senior — understand the power and importance of theater.

Another key moment occurred when a stranger in the audience — Justin has no idea who — complimented him, and said he could make a career in the theater.

Up to then, Justin had figured he’d be — who knows, maybe a lawyer? But because of that random comment — similar to advice given by parents and teachers, but teenager listens to them — Justin seriously reconsidered his choices.

Broadway and film lovers are glad he did. After graduating from the University of Michigan — where he was not the best actor (and perhaps the worst dancer) in his theater program, but where he did meet his great friend and songwriting partner Benj Pasek — Justin’s career has taken off like, well, a movie tale.

He and Benj have already won Oscars, Tonys and Grammys, for “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.”

And he’s just 15 years out of high school.

Yesterday, Justin told those stories before a rapt audience of Staples Players, in the auditorium. (He also joked that, as young as he is, some current Staples Players were not yet born when he graduated.)

Justin Paul yesterday, at Staples High School. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Players is currently in the midst of rehearsals for their spring production — which (surprise!) happens to be “Merrily We Roll Along.”

As with any show, there have been challenges. Not the least is missing 2 key days of rehearsals, when schools closed this week after the winter storm.

So the young actors, tech crew and singers who listened in awe to Justin — and asked great questions — may have been the only Staples students happy to have only a 3-hour delay yesterday, not a 5-day weekend.

At the end of his appearance yesterday at Staples High School, Justin played piano as students sang the “Dear Evan Hansen” classic, “Waving Through a Window.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Justin talked honestly, passionately and with plenty of humor about his life at Staples, and in theater. He inspired, motivated and validated hundreds of teenagers, at a pivotal moment in their lives — just as he had been inspired, motivated and validated 15 years ago, in the same auditorium.

And then — after sharing not just his wisdom, but his music — with them, he headed off to Coleytown Middle School.

Where he did the same, for another cherished alma mater.

(“Merrily We Roll Along” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and $10 for seniors (matinee only). For tickets and more information, click here.)