Katie Rose Clarke advocated for herself to be in ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ on Broadway

Clarke stars as Beth in the Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival by award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim, and she shares how she’s making the role her own.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

Katie Rose Clarke was nine months pregnant when she auditioned for Merrily We Roll Along, a revival of the 1984 musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth. She heard the production was casting from her good friend Lindsay Mendez, who stars as Mary in the show. The more she learned, the more she wanted to audition.

“I just emailed my manager and my agent and I said, 'I want to go in for Merrily,'” Clarke remembered. “I don't care what part. Any part.”

Merrily follows three friends in showbiz — Mary, Franklin (Jonathan Groff), and Charley (Daniel Radcliffe) — whose bond falls apart over 20 years. By the time Clarke was at her callback to play Beth, Franklin's wife, she was in the early stages of labor. She and her husband were even timing contractions the night before. She had her baby two days later, and five months after that, she started rehearsals.

“Sometimes you need to be your own best advocate,” Clarke said. “I just knew I needed to go in for it… The fact that they really had the vision to see me in that role, and to see past where I was physically at the time, is by the grace of God.”

Now, Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Maria Friedman, is nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival. New York Theatre Guide spoke with Clarke about doing a Sondheim show for the first time, what it's like working with her friends, and how she’s making the role her own at the Hudson Theatre through July 7.

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Were you familiar with the show before you auditioned?

I knew so many of the songs, but I didn't know the story. And I wasn't familiar with the script. So when Lindsay was telling me about it and telling me about the production, she sent me a recording of the Menier Chocolate Factory production that Maria Friedman directed in the West End [in London].

I watched it, and that’s when I told Lindsay, “Oh this is perfect for you, you have to do this show!” [...] And then as I was watching, I was like, “I also want to be in this.”

What’s it like working with Lindsay again, after you two starred in Wicked on Broadway together as Glinda and Elphaba?

It is an absolute dream. She really is one of my closest friends. We’re moms together. She has a little girl that's the same age as my middle child. In the 10 years [since Wicked], we've just done a lot of life together. Marriages, having babies, and all the things that life brings. She’s like a sister, so it's a real dream.

You two portray a complicated friendship on stage, as Mary has an unrequited crush on Franklin. Did you relate to Beth’s story at all?

Yeah, almost everything. When I had the chemistry read with Jonathan, I remember thinking, “Wow, I have such a deep connection with that.” I really get her and understand this character. I have felt such a connection with the creative team and with Jonathan. We’re friends, so that came really easily in the room, but we've never worked together. Beth really feels very much like me.

Beth sings one of the show's most iconic songs, “Not a Day Goes By.” What is it like performing that song every night? How do you make it your own?

Maria, our director, worked on this show with Sondheim and George Furth, so she knows the show so intimately. You’d think something like this will be really preserved in amber and you can't have any latitude with it. But she really did give me freedom to own it and put my stamp on it.

It's so well written that you just have to ride the wave of it. I did tell Maria, “I just don't know that this will be the same from night to night. She said, “I don't want it to be.” She gave me a lot of trust to really own it.

Did you ever get to meet Sondheim when he was alive?

I never did. He’s such musical theatre royalty. His shows are the ones that you aspire to do. I have auditioned so many times for so many different productions of different Sondheim shows and have never gotten one until now. What a first one to do!

Maria mentioned this thing he used to say to her: “Don't sing what I wrote, sing what I meant.” That is such a cool insight, and also, what an amazing thing to hear from Stephen Sondheim. That he trusts you enough to interpret what he meant versus exactly what's on the page.

I am so honored that I get to be a part of it. It feels like a masterpiece, and I watch it off stage almost every night. Because it's always exciting. It's always different. It's always good, and the three of them [Groff, Radcliffe, and Mendez] in those roles are just so perfect. They’re just as beautiful off stage as human beings as they are in the performances that they're giving on stage.

It makes it all the more exciting to be a part of it. I pinch myself every day that I get to do this. I feel like the luckiest.

Get Merrily We Roll Along tickets now.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Top image credit: Katie Rose Clarke. (Photo by Matthew Priestley)
In-article image credit: Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

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