Adapting the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, George Furth’s script begins in 1976 and “ends” in 1957. Friedman frames “Merrily” as the flashbacks of Franklin Shepard (Groff, with an instinct for humanizing Frank even at his worst), a lonely fortysomething movie producer and former composer. Though oozing in his wealth and connections, Franklin grits his teeth and pretends that he’s basking in his successes. However, tensions run high as his second wife, the Broadway actress Gussie Carnegie (Krystal Joy Brown), and his theatre critic friend, Mary Flynn (Mendez), storm out on him. As the musical rolls back in time scene by scene, he reflects on the relationship and career choices that severed him from Mary and his former lyricist-playwright collaborator, Charley Kringas (Radcliffe). Thanks to Kai Harada’s sound design and Joel Fram’s music direction (especially in an era where musical sound mixing can be suspect), a crisp-sounding chorus delivers aphorisms in the show’s transition numbers, spelling out the years and Frank’s questions: “How did you get to be here? What was the moment?”
Soutra Gilmour’s set design adheres to simplicity: an unremarkable white wall of blue-backdropped windows that hint toward Franklin’s pursuit of hollow opulence. The kinks have been resolved since its off-Broadway run. For example, thanks to Amith Chandrashaker’s dutiful lighting, hyper-shiny tassels no longer derail the one-two gut punch of “Not a Day Goes By” (Reprise). Die-hards might bristle at a “logical” — perhaps middlebrow — staging of “Merrily,” but Friedman’s grounded approach hits the right notes with Sondheim’s chromatic lyricism, singing a tune that feels universal on many wavelengths. The chemistry between Groff, Radcliffe, and Mendez is easy wind in the sails, their triptych bond knitted together by Tim Jackson’s corny choreography that accents their quirks (such as the comical manner in which Radcliffe drags his feet as Mendez accosts him into a shoulder-to-shoulder dance). When Frank’s former friendships dance into view, we mourn for what they had lost.