KU Theatre to stage Sondheim musical

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Theatre is staging "Merrily We Roll Along," written by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, at 7:30 p.m. April 20-21, 27-28 and at 2:30 p.m. April 22 and 29 in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.

The KU production is directed and choreographed by John Staniunas, associate professor of theatre, with musical direction by Ryan McCall, University Theatre accompanist. The orchestra is conducted by Carlos Espinosa, Lawrence doctoral student. Scenic designer is Del Unruh, professor of theatre; lighting designer is Dennis Christilles, associate professor of theatre; costume and makeup designer is Cynthia Evans, Lawrence graduate student; and hair and wig designer is Jim Grimes, Lawrence hairdresser. The multimedia designer is Elahe Marjovi, Tehran, Iran, graduate student, and dialect coach is Paul Meier, professor of theatre.

Based on an original play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart, "Merrily We Roll Along" was staged on Broadway in 1981, when it ran for a mere 16 performances. In spite of it short run on Broadway, the musical remains one of Sondheim's favorite scores and is considered to be one of his best. Subsequent revised productions ended with the February 2012 version, part of "Encores" concert series at New York City Theatre, directed by James Lapine.

"Merrily We Roll Along" begins in the present and moves backward in time from 1976 to 1955. The story examines the lives of three people whose friendship is tested by time, events, ambition and fate. It looks back on lost love, lost chances and lost dreams, Staniunas said.

"It charts the rise of a songwriting team during the years of Sondheim’s own young career, and features some of his most brilliant and bruising songs, including 'Not a Day Goes By,' 'Old Friends,' “Our Time' and 'Opening Doors,'" Staniunas says. "It says so much about friendship."

Calling the musical "a theatrical morality play," Staniunas said the main characters are idealistic in their goals at the beginning of their careers, criticizing the American ideal and its corruptive effect on the young artist by writing a “topical” Broadway musical.

"Sondheim underscores the cliché that history repeats itself by telling the story of an artist who corrupts himself by selling his integrity to American ideology," Staniunas said. "We see a man corrupted by the very success we all idealize: he will sell everything he once held precious to obtain material comfort—even his best friend. As the years go by, the three writers each became very successful professionally, but drift apart as friends."

Reserved seat tickets for the musical are on sale in the KU ticket offices: University Theatre, 864-3982, and Lied Center, 864-ARTS, and online at kutheatre.com. Public tickets are $20, tickets for all students are $10, and senior citizen and KU faculty and staff tickets are $19.