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Merrily horizontalThe Wagner College Theatre presents its Main Stage production, “Merrily We Roll Along,” Nov. 12-15 and Nov. 19-23. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. weekend matinees on Nov. 15, 22 and 23.

Stephen Sondheim’s semi-autobiographical musical, with book by George Furth, is directed by Michele Pawk, with musical direction by Lauri Young.

In “Merrily,” Sondheim and Furth turn the traditional showbiz musical on its head in this thrilling and compelling Broadway fable about friendship, compromise and the high price of success, expertly blending the backstage excitement and energy of a musical with a poignant and emotional contemporary story about the importance of staying true to one’s ideals.

“Merrily We Roll Along” moves backward in time from 1980 to 1955 through the lives of Franklin, Charley and Mary, three theater comrades whose friendship is tested by time, events, ambition and fate through each milestone of their personal and professional lives, good and bad. The show ends with a touch of rueful irony as the three best friends, at the start of their careers, face a bright future: young, talented and enthusiastic about the worlds waiting to be conquered.

“Merrily’s” powerful and moving story features some of Sondheim’s most beautiful songs, including “Good Thing Going,” “Not a Day Goes By” and “Old Friends.”

Director Michele Pawk, a Sondheim veteran, was featured in the first New York revival of “Merrily We Roll Along” as Gussie. She has been featured in several regional productions of Sondheim musicals, including “Bounce” (Nellie), “Company” (Joanne), “A Little Night Music” (Countess Charlotte Malcolm) and “Into the Woods” (the Witch).

Wagner College Theatre’s production of “Merrily” boasts a cast of 15 and features theater performance majors Joshua Sottile as Franklin Shepard, T.J. Lamando as Charley Kringas, Katharine Braggas Mary Flynn, Lisa Jeanne Peterson as Beth, Jeanine Bruen as Gussie, Tom Althoff as Joe, and Tyler Angotto, Nick Barakos, Lindsay Dunn,Sam Forin, Courtney McGowan, Paige McNamara, Daniel Marconi, Mackenzie Shay, and Sarah Shear. Staten Islanders in the production are Joshua Sottile, Jeanine Bruen and Sam Forin.

The design team includes Richard Kendrick (sets), Vicki Neal (lights), Alan Michael Smith (costumes), Richard Kroth (sound), Emilia Martin (wig design). Brendan Stackhouse is assistant director, and Jenna Shea is production stage manager.

Jim Walton, Lonny Price, Ann Morrison, Liz Callaway, Tonya Pinkins and Jason Alexander were in the original cast directed by Harold Prince. Although unsuccessful in its original 1981 Broadway production (which ran 16 performances at the Alvin Theatre), “Merrily” has gained in stature and reputation over the ensuing years, beginning with a reconfigured version at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 1985 directed by James Lapine.

An Off-Broadway revival directed by Susan H. Schulman opened on May 26, 1994, at the York Theatre in St. Peter’s Church. The cast included Malcolm Gets, Adam Heller, Danny Burstein, and WCT’s Michele Pawk. The Tony-winning City Center Encores! presented “Merrily” in concert in 2012 starring Colin Donnell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Celia Kennan-Bolger, Betsy Wolfe and Elizabeth Stanley.

The Wagner College Theatre box office, located on the first floor of Main Hall, can be contacted at 718-390-3259 or Box office hours are Monday through Friday, 12 to 4 p.m. Single tickets are available in price ranges for children, seniors and adults. Wagner College students attend free with current ID.

141120 Advance, 'Merrily' rolls on in WEB

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Back in time with 'old friends'

Tony winner Michele Pawk helms Wagner production of rare Sondheim classic

Actress and Wagner College Theater prof Michele Pawk doesn’t really want to talk about her production of “Merrily We Roll Along” or her acting classes — or even her own work (the Tony winner was most recently off-Broadway starring in “17 Orchard Point.”)

She wants to talk only about “the kids” — her students.

“They are incredible!” she said recently during some downtime in her office, right next door to Wagner’s Main Hall Theater.

“They think outside the box,” she said, “and they are so generous. I love teaching them and I love dealing with them.”

Pawk, who is directing “Merrily” with an all-student cast, comes to the show with credentials.

A longtime working actress with an enviable resume, she was in an award-winning 1994 York Theater “Merrily” revival that many critics liked better than the original.

The show, a Stephen Sondheim/George Furth collaboration, has three of Sondheim’s best songs, “Not a Day Goes By,” “Old Friends” and “Got a Good Thing Going.”

Like all Sondheim projects, “Merrily” is thoughtful and unusual.

Like Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” it moves backwards (from 1980 to 1955), examining the not-always-merry, complex lives of its characters in reverse.

At the end, they are young and enthusiastic facing the bright future they hope will come their way. The audience knows otherwise.

Despite consistent acclaim, Sondheim shows can be a tough sell. Pawk, who has directed some safer bets at Wagner, namely “Seussical,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” “Rent” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”

She is hoping that even theatergoers who don’t know “Merrily,” will take a chance on it.

“I think — I hope — people will come,” she said. “I have to say it’s been an amazing thing for the kids to work on and it is the kind of show that appeals to me. I like to be challenged. For me, the message has to be personal.”

The cast includes Joshua Sottile, TJ Lamando, Katherine Bragg, Lisa Jeanne Peterson, Jeanine Bruen, Tom Althoff, Tyler Angotto, Nick Barakos, Lindsay Dunn, Sam Forin Courtnay McGowan, Paige McNamara, Daniel Marconi Mackenzie Shay and Sarah Shear. Lauri Young is musical director.


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