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Friedman directs Merrily, Hodge helms Torch Song at Menier

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As previously tipped, Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Award-winning actor Maria Friedman, well known for her many Sondheim performance credits, will turn Sondheim director helming a long-rumoured revival of Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Merrily We Roll Along will run from 16 November 2012 to 23 February 2013, the final offering in the Menier’s just-announced full 2012 season, which will also comprise revivals for classic English comedy Charley’s Aunt, and Broadway Tony Award-winning drama Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, directed by another Olivier Award-winning actor, Douglas Hodge, last seen (and laurelled) at the Chocolate Factory in the musical La Cage aux Folles, also written by Fierstein.

Torch Song Trilogy opens the new season, running from 30 May to 12 August 2012. Originally conceived and performed in three acts, Torch Song Trilogy tells the story of Jewish torch singer-drag queen Arnold Beckoff and his encounters with passion, thrills, love and loss.

Fierstein himself played Arnold in the play’s 1982 Broadway premiere, and the 1988 film adaptation. The role was taken by Antony Sher in the 1985 West End premiere at the Albery Theatre. No casting has yet been announced for the Menier revival.

Hodge played Albin, another gay man fighting for his right for happiness, in the Menier’s revival of Fierstein’s 1983 musical La Cage aux Folles, which started at the Chocolate Factory’s Southwark home in October 2008 before transferring to the West End and Broadway and earning Hodge both an Olivier and a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Following Torch Song Trilogy, Ian Talbot directs Brandon Thomas’ famous 1892 farce Charley’s Aunt from 20 September to 10 November 2012. Charley’s rich aunt, Dona Lucia, is visiting from Brazil (where the nuts come from!). The timing couldn’t be better. Her presence as a chaperone will allow him and his cohort Jack to invite their respective true loves, Amy and Kitty, for luncheon to ask for their hands in marriage. Time is ticking, Amy is soon to leave for Scotland, but where is Charley’s aunt?

Talbot directed Where’s Charley?, the Broadway take on Thomas’ original in 2001 at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, where he was then artistic director. His directing credits since leaving the Open Air in 2007 have included Lend Me a Tenor The Musical, which transferred to the West End last summer and The Invisible Man at the Chocolate Factory.

Coincidentally, Maria Friedman’s last onstage appearance at the Chocolate Factory was in The Invisible Man in 2010. She has also appeared there in her one-woman show Maria Friedman: Re-arranged, which transferred to the West End. She now marks her directorial debut at the venue with Merrily.

Starting in 1980, Merrily We Roll Along tells the story of a celebrated songwriter and film producer, Franklin Shepard. Presented in reverse chronological order, the musical follows Shepard's descent from idealistic youth into wayward and greedy middle age, while also chronicling the dissolution of his showbiz friendships. The score includes "Not a Day Goes By", "Our Time" and "Old Friends".

Inspired by a 1934 play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart, Merrily We Roll Along has music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth. When the musical opened on Broadway in 1981, it was savaged by critics and closed after a matter of weeks. Since then, it has been reclaimed as a classic.

Following its London premiere at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1983, Merrily We Roll Along received a high-profile regional outing, starring none other than Maria Friedman, at the Leicester Haymarket in 1992. It had its West End premiere in 2000 at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 11 Dec 2000), where Michael Grandage directed and Daniel Evans, Samantha Spiro and Julian Ovenden starred. The production went on to win three Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical.


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