Documentary from director Lonny Price traces what happened to the original 1981 cast of rare Stephen Sondheim / Hal Prince Broadway failure, “Merrily We Roll Along”.
DFNY: How did you first get involved with the project?
BDK: I have been a Sondheim obsessive for many years — and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG was my favorite of his shows. I didn’t care that it closed in 16 performances. What I cared about was that it was the most honest, soul-searching, bittersweet reflection on how we live and love and grow old and make mistakes — and how we end up in places we never would expect. A key song from the show “Our Time” was actually my wedding song. So thanks to this obsession, I have always been very tapped into news about Sondheim and MERRILY through friends, social media and the like. So when I saw in an online post that Lonny Price, one of the original cast members of MERRILY was trying to put together a MERRILY documentary, I immediately reached out and offered any and all help.
DFNY: How was it to come in after several other producers had already been involved – were you always certain you were going to finish the film?
BDK: Never had any doubt we would finish the film. Of course Lonny was driven to complete the film on so many levels given that this is, in a sense, his very personal story — but also everyone else from the producer team, Executive Producers, DPs, editors, researchers, footage and music rights holders were just so passionate about doing their part to help finish the film. It was an amazing 4+ year process.
DFNY: Were there any major disagreements on how to proceed/content, etc?
BDK: It was an incredibly respectful, creative collaboration throughout. Any disagreements were intensely, passionately discussed but quickly resolved. The important thing is what Lonny wanted to do was very clear, and everyone who worked on the film was on the same page. It was about telling the story, staying true to the themes, and celebrating one of the greatest scores ever written for the theater.
DFNY: As a lifelong Sondheim fan, did working on this film make you look at him and his work in a different way?
BDK: I think getting so up close and personal with the music, the unmixed stems, the documents, the script — and watching the footage that captured the writing process while Steve and Hal and George were making creative choices back in 1981 — allowed me to appreciate the craftsmanship even more, if that’s possible. These guys were absolutely fearless from a creative perspective. Aways looking for the harder, more interesting way to do something. So inspiring!
DFNY: Did the show’s theme of aging/regret make you look at your own life in a new way? Any regrets?
BDK: I think the MERRILY story, and its tendency to inspire self-reflection, had already been with me for 30+ years even before I started working on the film. While I am all for an examined life, that’s a lot of self-reflection! One of the things I love about the film is that it allows me to gain insights into my own life by watching others self-reflect. Some of the “life lesson” insights from the people in the film are just devastatingly beautiful. When Terry Finn talks about how kids early in their career don’t appreciate the fact that they are building something, that they are actually opening doors, doing their thing, even though it may not feel like it at the time — it just hits you like a ton of bricks. And as any Sondheim fan knows, that the feeling of being hit by a ton of bricks — an epiphany that comes from a few perfectly strung together words — is quintessential Sondheim, and seems to be a big part of what audiences are taking away from the film.
BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED opens 11/18 in New York at the IFC Center and Lincoln Center/Film Society and in LA on 11/25 at Laemmle’s Royal. More theaters and markets will be announced soon.