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Merrily We Roll Along the Musical - Synopsis
This is a synopsis of the revised 1994 York Theatre version of the show, not the original one performed on Broadway.
Franklin Shepard is a rich, famous, and influential songwriter and film producer ("Merrily We Roll Along Lyrics"). As the years roll back over 20 years of his life, we see how he went from penniless composer to wealthy producer, and what he gave up to get there.
In Frank's swank Los Angeles pad in 1976, after the premiere of his latest film, a party is in full swing. Frank's Hollywood peers are there, and bestow lavish praise on him ("That Frank Lyrics"). His oldest friend, theatre critic Mary Flynn is also at the party. She is disgusted by the shallow people Frank has chosen to associate with and by his abandonment of music - the one thing he was truly good at - for the world of commercial film producing. Frank seems happy, but tenses up when a guest mentions a Pulitzer-winning play by Charles Kringas, Frank's former best friend and lyricist. Frank and Mary get a moment alone together, and she chides him for missing his son's graduation. Frank admits to Mary that his new film is just a formula picture, but he promises: just wait for the next film! But Mary has given up waiting, and becomes progressively more inebriated. She gives a drunken toast, castigating Frank and insulting his guests, and storms out of the party (and Frank's life) in a drunken rage. Frank's wife Gussie arrives and they start to argue. She is angry that the leading role in Frank's movie, which she had planned to star in, went to a younger actress, Meg. He has been stung by Mary's rant, and confesses that he has concentrated so completely on being a "success" that everything and everyone he most valued at the beginning of his career has gone. The evening ends traumatically when Gussie confronts Frank with knowledge of his infidelity with Meg, the leading actress in his movie. He ends their marriage, and she viciously attacks Meg.
The years roll back to 1973 ("First Transition Lyrics"). Frank and Charley Kringas are about to be interviewed in a New York TV studio. Mary greets Charley backstage, and Charley tells her that Frank never has time to write shows anymore with him. Mary, whose drinking is steadily worsening, confesses that she has set up the interview to force Frank to publicly commit to writing the show he and Charley have been trying to write for years, but Charley is frustrated and bitter. Mary wonders plaintively why can't their collective friendship be "like it was" ("Old Friends (Part I) Lyrics - Like It Was Lyrics"), and Charley realizes that Mary, after 20 years, is still in love with Frank. When Frank finally arrives, his new wife Gussie in tow, tensions are clearly running high. Gussie is trying to avoid her ex-husband, Broadway producer Joe Josephson, who is hitting her up for money, and Frank is fretting over how to tell Charley that he has signed a three-picture deal. Unfortunately, just before the interview begins, the host lets the news slip, infuriating Charley. As they go live on air, an increasingly angry and nervous Charley launches into a furious rant on the way his composer has transformed himself into "Franklin Shepard Inc Lyrics", pleading with Frank to return to doing what he does best. After the cameras are shut off, Charley is remorseful, but the damage is done. Frank disowns Charley and walks out - their friendship is over.
It's 1968, and Mary, Charley and Frank are in Frank's new apartment on Central Park West ("Second Transition Lyrics"), welcoming Frank back from a cruise. Charley has brought along Frank's young son, Frankie, whom he has not seen since his divorce. Frank has brought a gift for each of his friends: a copy of Mary's best-selling novel in Spanish, and a contract for a film option on his and Charley's show, Musical Husbands. Charley refuses, and an argument is sparked. Frank wants to option the film version for the money, which he needs after a contentious divorce, but Charley says that it will get in the way of writing anything new. Mary calms them down, reminding them about the importance of their friendship ("Old Friends Lyrics"), but it is clear that nothing is that simple anymore. Frank's producer Joe and his wife Gussie arrive. Gussie has brought champagne, which the teetotaler Mary refuses. It becomes clear that Frank and Gussie are having an affair, and Charley, Mary and Joe are all aware of it. Mary, who has been in love with Frank for years, is devastated by his irresponsibility and takes a generous gulp of champagne to prove a point. When everyone leaves, Charley lingers and advises Frank to end the affair, encouraging him to join him and Mary for a get together at the club where they got their start. After he leaves, Frank plays through an old song and attempts to make sense of his choices. He seems to be on the verge of composing a new piece but is interrupted when Gussie returns, announcing that she intends to live with him and divorce Joe. ("Growing Up Lyrics").
On to 1966 ("Third Transition Lyrics"). Frank is being divorced by his wife Beth, and they fight over the custody of their young son in a courthouse. Reporters flock around the scene, anxious to catch gossip since Gussie has been subpoenaed. Frank confronts Beth, who confesses that she still loves him, but that she can't live with him knowing he was unfaithful to her with Gussie ("Not a Day Goes By Lyrics"). She drags their son away, heading to Houston to live with her father. Frank collapses in despair but is consoled by Mary, Charley and his other remaining friends. His pals convince him to take a cruise, forget and start anew, stating that this was the "best thing that ever could have happened" ("Now You Know Lyrics").
In 1964, Gussie appears to be singing about Frank's infatuation with her, but as the scene transforms, and we see that Gussie is performing the song on-stage, as the star of Musical Husbands, on the opening night of Frank and Charley's first Broadway show. The curtain comes down on the show and as the audience applauds, Charley and Frank, who are backstage with Joe, Mary and Beth, realize they have a hit on their hands ("It's a Hit! Lyrics"). Charley's wife Evelyn is in labour and he and Beth rush to the hospital. Mary asks Beth to stay behind and make sure Frank is not left alone with Gussie, but Beth chooses to trust her husband and leaves Frank on his own, listening to the sound of the audience applauding.
In 1962 ("Fourth Transition Lyrics"): Frank, Beth, Charley and Mary have been invited to a party in Gussie and Joe's elegant Sutton Place apartment, where they stand starstruck by the glamours and the influential crowd. ("The Blob Lyrics"). Deliberately spilling wine on Beth's dress, Gussie pulls Frank away from the party-goers, confiding her unhappiness to him, and convinces him to write the commercial show Joe is producing, "Musical Husbands", rather than the political satire he and Charley are trying to get produced. ("Growing Up" (Reprise)). Returning to her guests, Gussie invites the songwriters to perform their latest song, "Good Thing Going Lyrics". The guests love it and Gussie implores them to do an encore. Charley urges Frank not to, but Frank agrees. They play the song again, but the guests quickly lose interest and resume their noisy cocktail chatter ("The Blob (Reprise)"). Charley storms out, as Mary looks on worriedly.
Time turns back to 1960 ("Fifth Transition Lyrics"). Charley, Frank and Beth are performing at a small nightclub in Greenwich Village, with a supportive Mary lending a hand. Trying to appear bright and sophisticated, they perform a song celebrating America's new First Family ("Bobby and Jackie and Jack Lyrics"). Joe is in the tiny audience and he's quite impressed, as is his new fiancée (and former secretary) Gussie, who is strongly attracted to Frank at this first meeting. After the show, Frank explains to them that he and Beth are marrying. It becomes clear that the wedding is due to her pregnancy, but Frank professes his happiness anyway. With Mary, Charley and Beth's disapproving parents looking on, the happy couple exchanges vows, as a lovelorn Mary tries to swallow her feelings for Frank ("Not a Day Goes By (Reprise)").
In 1959 ("Sixth Transition Lyrics") Frank, Charley and Mary are busy in New York, working their way up the career ladder ("Opening Doors Lyrics"), taking any job they can and working feverishly at their respective songs, plays and novels. (Sondheim claims this is the "only autobiographical song [he's] ever written... It's about all of us [writers] in the 50's knocking on the doors of producers and trying to get heard.") The men audition for Joe, but he wants more "hummable" tunes, and instructs them to leave their name with his secretary. So they decide to do their own show and in an ensuing musical montage, end up auditioning and hiring Beth and forming a cabaret show together.
Finally, it is October 1957 ("Seventh Transition Lyrics"). Early in the morning, Frank and Charley are on the roof of an old apartment house on New York City's 110th Street, waiting for the first-ever earth-orbiting satellite. Frank, who is about to be released from the Army, tells Charley how much he likes Charley's plays, and proposes that they turn one, a political satire, into a musical. Mary, their neighbour, arrives to view the satellite, and meets the boys for the first time. She has heard Frank's piano from her apartment, and she tells him how much she admires his music. He speaks eloquently on how much composing means to him. Suddenly, Sputnik is there in the sky, and now, for the young friends, anything is possible ("Our Time Lyrics").
Read More: Merrily We Roll Along the Musical Lyrics
Synopsis to Merrily We Roll Along the Musical