How to Watch, Live-Stream of 'Ann Morrison: Merrily From Center Stage'

Ann Morrison played Mary Flynn, one of the three lead characters in the original production of Stephen Sondheim's 1981 cult favorite–flop musical, Merrily We Roll Along, which was directed by Hal Prince. The story of that original production and its aftermath was touchingly recalled in Lonny Price's 2016 documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. As good as Best Worst Thing is, its 96-minute length meant that a lot of interviews and memories had to be left on the cutting room floor. (To date, no DVD with hours of extra footage has been released.)

To help clear up some questions that resulted from that footage not being used, Morrison has put together Ann Morrison: Merrily From Center Stage, which debuts on May 17 at Feinstein's/54 Below and which also can be live-streamed. Morrison recently talked with Newsweek about putting this show together and her memories of Sondheim, Prince, and Merrily and what came after that production.

Like most of Merrily's cast members Morrison was a longtime fan of Sondheim. Her first conscious memory of his work is West Side Story for which he wrote the lyrics. She told Newsweek, "At age 7, I had the whole show choreographed, staged and costumed. Because of West Side, I wanted to be Puerto Rican. Next was Gypsy, then Follies and then Company. My folks were college professors in theater focused on musical theater so I had all the cast albums for everything." The first Broadway show she saw "was Company, and we sat in the mezzanine of the Alvin Theatre, where Merrily We Roll Along later played."

cast of Merrily We Roll Along 19801
From left, Jim Walton, Ann Morrison and Lonny Price, original cast members from the 1981 Broadway production of "Merrily We Roll Along," which Morrison talks about in her new cabaret show at Feinstein's/54 Below.

When asked why and how she put this show together, Morrison told Newsweek, "Well, actually, to be honest, one reason I am doing the show is because of the documentary. I got teased so much about it. One thing people said was, 'So your son was born by immaculate conception?' There's no mention of a father. Just, all of a sudden, there's this kid. And the other thing I got teased about was: 'So you quit the business to work with special needs people?' A lot of people thought I'd left the business, because so much went on the cutting room floor. Originally, the documentary was going to be about all of us. Then Lonny decided to do some of everybody but focus more and more on the five of us[—Morrison, Price, Sondheim, Prince and actor Jim Walton]. At one point, Lonny wanted to take himself out and just be the director. And then he found all that footage. So, some cast members never got to have their interview."

Found Footage, Lost Stories

In Best Worst Thing, long-lost footage for a TV documentary piece on Merrily that never aired is found. That changed the focus of the documentary. The stories of cast members in the present interspersed with footage of them in their youth gives the documentary a poignancy; it also echoes the plot Merrily, which is told in reverse chronological order. This is especially true at the end of the film, which shows footage of all the cast members being told they have been hired—ironic given how the musical was received. While the film benefited, many good stories were lost.

Ann Morrison Merrily From Center Stage
Ann Morrison talks about the 1981 Broadway flop–now cult favorite "Merrily We Roll Along" and what came after it closed in her new cabaret show "Ann Morrison: Merrily From Center Stage," at Feinstein's/54 Below.

Morrison told Newsweek, "For me, it was weird because I'm not in the beginning of the documentary. My story started later. So, I said. 'This might be a good time to bring that up. I'll bring this up from the cutting room floor.' And that's kind of what happened. In my show, I sing the score of Merrily—not all of it, or we'd be there for two hours—but lots of it. My shows are always more of a theater piece. I don't sing a song, say who it was written by and then tell a little anecdote about it. This show is like a little musical.

"I select certain things that I think are important. I say from the very beginning that I'm not a historian. I'm not that interested in that, because you can read that in a book. I'm an actor and a storyteller. I'm more interested in how it felt."

A book about Merrily that Morrison highly recommends is Facing the Music: a Broadway Memoir by Merrily cast mate David Loud. She said, "He has about four chapters in there on the show. Such a lovely perspective from his point of view."

Tracking Memory

Morrison told Newsweek that her show "is almost how we how we track memory, and because we only remember what we last remember, that's what makes it fun for me. I can only tell the story from the last layer, the last time I remembered it. So, it's really more of an emotional memory. I allow myself to be very vulnerable. I usually do anyway, and I'm fine with that.

"I get to tell stories about Ron Field, because for some reason, I was his confidant," she told Newsweek, referring to Merrily's original choreographer who was dismissed over creative differences during previews. "He told me everything.

"So, it's been really profound putting this together. And I just did a rehearsal last night because I'm gonna do it in front of a couple of people tonight just to get a sense of what it's like to do in front of other people. And I looked at the pianist, and I said, 'What kind of a monster did I just create?'"

As seen in Best Worst Thing much of Merrily was written and rewritten over and over during the first production—not to mention during several other key productions over the years. People got fired, the plot changed and songs got cut. But Mary Flynn's part got bigger, and Morrison got more songs.

"I didn't get material cut," she told Newsweek. "If anything, some things that got cut were given to me to do. In my show, I talk about that when I talk about what happened when we began rehearsals. I tell it through music, and I tell it through storytelling. And the show goes really fast. Oh my god, you have to pay attention. That's the way I like to do shows. Yeah, I got things added. And then sometimes other people got their songs cut, and then something needed to be given to Mary to flesh out the stuff."

Old Friends

Morrison talked to Newsweek about the Merrily she was in: the Merrily on Broadway, before it went through so many incarnations. "The point of the whole story of Merrily is is not about it's not about giving up, deciding to change your career in a different way or you know...compromising. It's really about friendship. I mean, to me, what was so fun about being in New York is we've developed these great friendships and some of them are your friends forever. But friendships change, and people in your friendship make different decisions about stuff and how does that impact? So, watching the show go backwards, you stay focused on the three of them. By the end of the play, or when they're on the rooftop [which occurs just before the final scene in that production], you get to see how people made the choices that they made and how friendships change. The idea that this is about how Franklin Shepard sold out because he wanted to go into films—everybody in the business can do both the theater and do films. That's not the focus, the focus is about friendship.

"It's like how things begin, and how it knits together can inform the rest of your life."

Lasting Last Impressions

When asked about her last memories of Sondheim, "One of my last pictures [in my mind] I have of Steve is at the Hal Prince memorial service. Because Lonny, Jim [Walton] and I were asked to perform 'Old Friends' for it. I saw [Prince's wife and daughter] Judy and Daisy Prince, and I asked 'Why are you asking us to do that? Merrily was not a successful show for him.' And Daisy said, 'But the "Old Friends" number is everything about my dad. And I said even the fight in the middle of the whole thing says everything about my dad.' I said, 'OK.' So, we came out on stage, and it was a surprise. And the audience went nuts, because it was almost 40 years. We did the original choreography, and so my last memory is going down to say thank you to Judy and Daisy, and there was Steve shuffling his feet because he was so afraid that he was going to fall. And he looked at me and he went, 'Annie!'"

As for Prince, Morrison said, "Hal became Uncle Hal, and was Uncle Hal until the day he died to me. He had me come back to New York to do LoveMusik [a musical with a book by Alfred Uhry, with music by Kurt Weill]. He always wanted to make stars. That was his thing. I remember having coffee with him. Because whenever I was in New York, I would go to the Prince office and have coffee and chat. He was always interested in what I was doing, what I was writing next and my next solo piece, and my plays and what have you. I said, 'How do you guys do it anymore? Everybody coming out of college—they all look alike. They all sound alike.' And he said, 'Honey, you and I are dinosaurs. When I was starting out, I wanted to make stars, and now I have to have a TV star and someone else to star. I'm not even the star of my own shows.'"

Not a day goes by when Sondheim and Merrily fans don't give some thought to the musical that has spawned a generation of obsessives. So, stories like these will be scooped up from Best Worst Thing's cutting room floor, spliced together and shared with them by Morrison onstage and online in Ann Morrison: Merrily From Center Stage.

Now you know.

Ann Morrison: Merrily From Center Stage is live at Feinsteins/54 Below Cellar 254 West 54th Street, New York, on May 17. For tickets and livestream information go to 54Below.com/Artists/Ann-Morrison.