Merrily We Roll Along Director Maria Friedman Was Determined to Make Sondheim Proud | Playbill

Tony Awards Merrily We Roll Along Director Maria Friedman Was Determined to Make Sondheim Proud

She's currently up for a Tony Award for directing the hit revival of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical.

Maria Friedman Heather Gershonowitz

Three-time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman is currently up for a Tony Award for her direction of Broadway's hit Merrily We Roll along revival, the first truly successful production of Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical. While the British Friedman started her career as an actor, becoming a fixture of the West End stage, her switch to the other side of the table (and across the pond) has been triumphant. 

"It's been a long journey," Friedman says. "And I lost my friend Stephen Sondheim in the middle of it all. I think that's why I've always had this kind of very quiet determination to do him proud."

The original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along was short-lived, lasting just 16 performances and ending the professional relationship between Sondheim and Harold Prince. The new revival, which has run at the Hudson Theatre to sold-out crowds since September (it's playing through July 7), has given the musical new life and acclaim—the production received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical. 

"Everyone always says, 'Oh, the musical never worked, it never worked.' Things that don't normally work, they just disappear," Friedman says. "This has just kept coming back, and back, and back." 

The director says she had never seen a production of the musical before starring in it in the U.K. back in 1992. Then when it came time to direct her own version in London 2012, which was the base for the current Broadway revival, she didn't want to be influenced by any other production. 

After workshopping the show with drama students, Friedman realized something crucial, something she thinks may have hindered the original (which had young actors in their 20s playing characters in their 40s): "You can't have very young people playing people in their 40s and expect an audience to come with you. So by casting older people who have lives, we're not lying to an audience." Friedman is humble, though, saying, "It was just a couple of things that needed tweaking. And I was lucky enough that I appear to have the, always working from [Stephen and George's] work, the narrative on how to connect with an audience, how do you make it universal? It's not about the arts. It's not about grit. It's about friendship, and about being mindful of one another. And recognizing that, at any point, you can reset. You can, we can. We all make mistakes in life. So it's full of forgiveness. It's full of humanity."

The 77th Annual Tony Awards are set for June 16 at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater. The evening will kick off with The Tony Awards: Act One, streaming for free on Pluto TV. Details are to be announced. The 77th Annual Tony Awards will follow beginning at 8 PM ET, broadcasting live on CBS (check local listings) and streaming live (for premium-level subscribers) via Paramount+. All Paramount+ subscribers will have on demand access to the broadcast beginning June 17. Stage and screen star Ariana DeBose will be back for the third consecutive year to host.

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