TheatreWorks to roll along, merrily 

"Unique" is not a matter of degree — it’s an absolute, and so it is in the case of TheatreWorks, a unique American regional theater company. When company founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley closes the Mountain View troupe’s 37th season with the Stephen Sondheim musical "Merrily We Roll Along" (running Wednesday through April 22), this is the record on which that appellation proudly rests: In 36 seasons, this small company has managed to present 49 world premieres and 123 U.S. and regional premieres.

Among his many achievements, Kelley has built a virtual home to Sondheim, presenting almost all of his works and creating an annual holiday tradition with the enchanting-bitter-wise "Into the Woods."

But now it’s time for "Merrily," a work not quite in the masterwork category of "Follies" or "A Little Night Music." A spectacular Broadway flop, "Merrily" has some of the composer’s best music, but it has a difficult plot — although based on a play by theater giants George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The musical starts in 1980, with middle-aged characters looking back at their lives.

Don’t tell Kelley this is a "problem piece." He is a fan: "I think it is one of Sondheim’s best works, a big picture play about growing up and the choices we make in pursuit of our dreams. I was both thrilled and delighted when the show won [London’s] Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

"That said, I do think ‘Merrily’ is one of the trickiest ... to make soar. Looking at the classic challenges of Sondheim’s shows — unifying the acts of ‘Sunday in the Park’ and ‘Into the Woods,’ or finding the heart of ‘Pacific Overtures’ and the difference between passion and sex in ‘Passion’ — ‘Merrily’ is not only hard to get right, it is downright easy to get wrong. ... [Yet] it is a journey ... from cynicism to idealism that leaves everyone who sees and hears it in tears for the characters, for themselves, and for humanity as a whole."

But Kelley adds, "Trust

Sondheim’s genius and rejoice that the show is 25 years old; times have changed in the interlude and this kind of complex structure is now far more common in the world of movies and television, and the theater as well."

IF YOU GO

Merrily We Roll Along

Presented by: TheatreWorks

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

When: Tuesday through Sundays; closes April 22

Tickets: $35 to $62

Contact: (650) 903-6000 or www.theatreworks.org

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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