Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along might be the only example of a show that is both a notorious flop and a beloved classic. After Harold Prince, the leading director of the day, made a series of spectacularly awful choices—casting inexperienced and largely indistinguishable teen and young-adult actors, then dressing them in sweatshirts with their names on them for identification—the initial version lasted only sixteen performances. Sondheim and Prince, previously close collaborators, had a falling-out that lasted decades.

Today, the triumph of the first Broadway revival, slated for a date to be determined this fall, seems all but guaranteed. It will be a transfer of the euphorically received production that closed in January at downtown’s New York Theatre Workshop, whose 199 seats quickly sold out for the run of the show,...


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