How I Helped Rewrite ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ (S03E16)

Sep 27, 2019 | Clips, Season 3

Randy West on Ken’s Think Tank Season 3, Episode 16

Randy was explaining how he came to know Stephen Sondheim (previous to this clip) – and how that led into working with him.  This is just a small part of a long story worth listening to.

“I was doing this all premier season of Merrily.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained . . . I got ahold of Steve and said is there any way that I can do this new version of Merrily because it would be a premier.”

“He said, ‘Well, I have come to know you well enough that I’m OK with sending you my personal music manuscripts, but you need to get ahold of George Furth and see if it’s OK to do the new book.  And here’s George’s home phone number.’  Which was just incredible to me.”

“You have to remember . . . 4 or 5 years before that, I was teaching these guys to college kids.  Now I’m calling them on the phone.  It was a little surreal.”

“So I called George and told him what we were doing.  We went back and forth for about two weeks.  Finally, I think Steve called me and said, ‘We’ve decided that you can do the new version of Merrily if you let George and I do it with you and you make it the next workshop production so it advances the project.’  I said well of course I would do that.  I said that’s crazy.  I said this is not New York, this is not Los Angeles, we’re sitting out in the middle of the desert in Phoenix.”

“Steve said, ‘You can do the project if you can make me one promise.’  I said, OK what is that?  He said, ‘You need to promise that the creative process is the most important thing to you.’  I said I can make you that promise right now.  I said it’s always been.”

“Six months before I was supposed to direct Merrily, I get a phone call from George.  He said, ‘Aren’t you directing Merrily in six months?’  I said I think so, why?  He said, ‘When can you be in Hollywood?’  I said when do you want me?  He said, ‘How about Monday?’  I said OK, and he gave me directions.  Monday at 9:00, I was at George’s house.  He took me in, he got me coffee, we went down to his study.  He had the New York script of Merrily on one side of his computer.  He had the La Jolla version of Merrily on the other side.  He typed ‘Merrily We Roll Along, Act 1, Scene 1’ and he turned to me and said, ‘What do you think?’  I said I think it’s your play sir!  I’m happy to help in any way you want, but I certainly would not presume myself as somebody that could write your play!”

“He started writing, and he said, ‘What do you think about this?  If we take this from here and this from here…’  If George was anything, he was prolific.  He could just write . . . stuff would just flow out of him.”

“Occasionally I would suggest a line and it would get in there.  We would write so much, and then we would call Steve, and we would read it over the phone or we would send it to him, and he would give us notes.  The Hal Prince formula was that the director got to be the third collaborator in the creative process.”

“So I got to be part of that for six months, and I learned more about musical theater…”​

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