Some old dreams: watching “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened”

Stephen Sondheim, Hal Prince... Who else could have been in that room? Christ and Moses?!
— Jason Alexander

The terribly titled but profoundly rewarding Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is a study of anticipation and disappointment, youth and aging, triumph and loss. A documentary detailing the original Broadway production of Merrily We Roll Along, a notoriously troubled—and now much beloved—musical written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth and directed by Hal Prince, it moves from conception to casting to rehearsals to previews to opening night and then closing night...after only 16 performances. In the course of months, lives were changed. Careers were shaken and thrown off track just as they were starting. Hopes died, partnerships ended. ET CETERA. That’s show business.

Director Lonny Price (who won the role of Charley Kringas at the ripe old age of 22) laces the film with behind-the-scenes footage and recent interviews with many of the principals (Furth died in 2008). We see the actors 35 years ago as children, some of them, on Broadway for the first time, and now in middle age, still touched by the luck of the lightning that struck them and then, in most cases, moved on—the primary exception being, obviously, Jason Alexander. They gather at the end on the same stage where the show ran (now the Neil Simon, then the Alvin), and wonder what might have been.

We see the show’s creators, veritable theater gods at the height of their power and fame, who had a long way to fall before rising again. (It's okay: there was Sunday in the Park with George for one and POTO for the other, and many more, although they never collaborated together again.)

And ultimately what we see is that everybody dreams and everybody fails—even our heroes, as one actress remarks of Sondheim and Prince. We reach and we stumble and then we stand up once more. What else is there to do? There are no perfect endings, even in art, but the joy born here lives on and on.