Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened
by George Wolf
“I got everything I ever wanted, and I never really got over it.”
It’s been said that life is lived forward, but understood backward. This sentiment sits at the heart of Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, a poignant look back at a failed musical that carried the very same theme.
In 1981, director/co-writer Lonny Price was in the original Broadway cast of Merrily We Roll Along, a Stephen Sondheim/Hal Prince production that started with middle-aged characters and worked backward in time, until each was just a teenager eager to embark on life’s journey.
Now, more than three decades later, those very cast members (including a 21 year-old Jason Alexander) are middle-aged, and Price (who you’ll remember as ‘Neil” from Dirty Dancing) brings them together to look back on their shared experience and how it affected the course of their lives.
The setup is so perfect you’d think opening this time capsule was planned from the start, except that Merrily was an unexpected flop, leaving all involved to pick up the pieces and move on.
Price’s project struck gold when he discovered boxes of old video covering the birth of the show. Meant for an ABC-TV project that never aired, the footage lets us glimpse men and women watching themselves as just kids, excited for the promise of a future that has now become the past.
The young actors are beside themselves with energy, incredulous that they’re working with Sondheim and Prince (“the Gods of Broadway!”) and nearly bursting with all the bravado and naivete of youth.
The feels come early and often, in an entertaining and well-paced package. The strength of dreams, the bonds of friendship and the pain of disillusionment all take their bows, as the lines between stage, documentary and the lives of those involved are blurred in bittersweet ways.
Broadway fans will find an endearing peek inside that life, but thirty-five years later, the film succeeds on that elusive universal level the musical was dreaming of.