THE BOOK SHELF: Arthur Bicknell's "Moose Murdered" and the New Vocal Score of Merrily We Roll Along

By Steven Suskin
05 May 2013

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We have heard, read and written enough about Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along to allow us to skip the history in today's column. We will mention, though, that Rilting Music—the master's own publishing company—has now issued a new, "Revised Edition" of the vocal score. This gives us the definitive version of the show, which incorporates the various music and lyric changes made by the composer after the initial 1981 Broadway run. What's more, this edition is prepared from Sondheim's piano-vocal arrangements.

This bears some explanation. Simply put, the songwriter writes the songs and, if he or she is so equipped, prepares a comprehensive piano-vocal arrangement demonstrating just what he wants the listener to hear. These parts are handed over and transformed into rehearsal copies, often with edits and simplifications. Through the rehearsal period, these are altered and routined into the actual show versions, which are finally orchestrated. A piano-conductor score is also prepared; most conductors conduct from these rather than the full scores, as they provide an easy-to-read map to work from. These are used for piano-only rehearsals as well. Traditionally, Broadway vocal scores are developed from these piano-conductor scores and are thus reductions of the orchestrations.

In the case of the new Merrily, with Rilting's 2010 revised edition of A Little Night Music, the vocal score has now been prepared from Sondheim's own piano-vocals. Thus, you get to sit at the piano and play it the way Sondheim theoretically did, which makes a considerable difference. Rilting has at the same time used Sondheim's Merrily piano-vocals for a Revised Edition of the Vocal Selections. This is considerably expanded from the prior versions of the vocal selections, with fourteen songs (including two that have been cut over the years). So it is time for fans of the show (as it exists, not "like it was") to upgrade their Merrily.

Also of interest: The latest offering from the Applause Libretto Library—from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard—is Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes' 2008 Tony Award winner, In the Heights. Limelight Editions, meanwhile, gives us "Shakespeare for American Actors and Directors" by Aaron Frankel. The latter includes a cover photo of a University of Minnesota BFA student playing Hamlet at the Guthrie in 2006. You may have heard of him. His name is Santino Fontana.

(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at