Jane Pollak Logo

Dec 6, 2016

Even Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince Can Fail…and Rise Again

bestworstthing As I begin sending out query letters to agents to propose my memoir for publication, I take heart hearing tales of others’ artistic projects.

The other night, based on a rave review by my sister, I went to see BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED, a film by Lonny Price documenting his role and experience in the Broadway musical Merrily We Roll Along. At the time, it’s captured on a video recording, Price saw the opportunity as a lifelong vision come true.

Thousands of young actors and actresses responded to an open call audition by the invincible Broadway hitmakers Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince. Price, one of a couple of dozen actors who did make it into the cast, edited down cartons of footage from that period as well as current recorded reflections from the actors who’d been chosen (including Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame) about expectations and reality. For most of them, it was their first big break in theatre. Their lives would be forever changed.

Long story short, this highly anticipated production, closed after 16 performances. Is that registering? Sondheim and Prince, mega-wonders of the Great White Way, failed to create a show that would last more than two weeks.

We’re talking about the men behind Company, Follies and Sweeney Todd to name a few of their celebrated successes. During BEST WORST, actors reminisce to the camera and Price, about guilt feelings over their possible role in the demise of the show—the actor who took over the lead, the actress who didn’t disagree about the costuming decision when questioned.

You get to hear what went through their minds throughout the process, including the actress who’d been told she’d been put on ‘the short list’ during the audition period. At 5’2”, she took them literally thinking there were only so many roles for short actresses.

What this all adds up to is the life of any creative project. The young company was ecstatic to be chosen, to be in rehearsal and part of this great opportunity. It did change their lives, but not in the ways they would have predicted.

Twenty years after the debacle, the entire company reassembled for a one-night production to standing ovations and great acclaim. Sondheim and Prince, who never worked together again since that date, also got back into conversation. The musical itself went on to success in regional theaters ever since.

The main point of this documentary, plus why I continue to do what I do, is that although there is the possibility of great fame and fortune, creativity is a joy in itself. Nothing is really lost. The worst thing that could happen did, and yet there were bests that resulted.

I write because I love the process. I like being around writers, hearing and reading others’ words. Whether my book gets bought or becomes a bestseller, I am happy living the life I live.

In spite of the failure of Merrily We Roll Along, not one person expressed regret or sorrow about having been a part of the ensemble. As the title suggests, great things come from miserable upsets. The goal is to keep on going.

A Possible Comment Tag Line Here


  1. Doreen Birdsell

    In a word — or two…or three, Amen … Kudos … Inspirational — thank you Jane 😉

    • janepollak

      @Doreen – Thank you, my friend!

  2. Susan Harkavy

    Thank you so much, Jane. Your newsletters never fail to inspire. I’m a big Sondheim fan, so I’ll have to look for this documentary.

  3. Elaine Koufman

    I will order pre publication as will anyone who has had the pleasure of knowing you.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.