Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is a documentary film that follows in chronological time (much of the time) the creation of Merrily We Roll Along, the musical that reversed time and flopped – for a time.
Yes, the film, as the show, is confusing. But also exciting, emotional, and fascinating. If you love musicals. If you listened to Broadway albums ceaselessly as the open, loving people in this film did. If you knew all the words to show tunes. If you pranced about your living room performing the tunes for the curtains, then you must see Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.
Merrily We Roll Along, based on the Kaufman and Hart play, was the final Stephen Sondheim-Harold Prince collaboration. After their hits of Company and Sweeney Todd, among others, everyone expected Merrily to be huge. Far from it. Many audience members found Merrily so baffling that they walked out. The show lasted only 16 performances.
Luckily for us, in the early 1980s ABC filmed a documentary about the development of the show, but they shelved it after the show folded. Lonny Price, one of the stars of Merrily, retrieved the footage and directed and co-produced this film. We see scenes of early rehearsals with Sondheim, Prince and the show’s very young and very endearing stars. We share their excitement at getting cast and their devastation – and continuing sadness – at the show’s closing. We share their bittersweet joy when the original cast is reunited. We share their memories and tears – lots of tears! We learn how their lives turned out. Ann Morrison became a drama teacher to developmentally handicapped adults. Abigail Progrebin became a writer. And after Jason Alexander won a Tony for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, he became George Costanza!
Merrily has since been revived many times to great acclaim.
If you loved Every Little Step about the casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, you will also love Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened. It’s not in wide distribution, but it’s well worth the effort to seek it out. In New York City, its run has been extended at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.