On April 1, Playbill announced that Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along would be reworked so that the story’s action would be linear—a departure from the original, in which the action starts at the end and goes backward.
The “news” was actually a lighthearted April Fools Day joke, but it still got us reminiscing about some of our favorite shows that don’t run chronologically but instead use a nonlinear presentation to its full effect.
Here are some of our favorites.
Set in a crumbling Broadway theatre, Follies tells the story of former Broadway performers who reunite before the demolition of their once-glorious theatre. Their glamorous past flirts with their underwhelming present as their younger counterparts shadow them and time becomes ambiguous.
The Last 5 Years
One of composer Jason Robert Brown’s finest works, The Last 5 Years is a two-person show that tells the story of a dissolving relationship. The female protagonist, Cathy, starts her story at the end of the relationship with the heartbreaking ballad “Still Hurting.” The male protagonist, Jamie, begins his story at the beginning—immediately after meeting Cathy. The two only interact with each other in the middle of the show: at their wedding.
Assassins isn’t informed by cause and effect, but rather a theme: assassination attempts on American presidents. Centered around a carnival shooting game, the story jumps between various Presidents spanning over a century. Though the time may not be exactly consistent, the audience remains rapt at the motivations of its characters.
Who needs linear time when you have Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera sharing a stage? The Rink tells of an estranged daughter returning to her mother and the once-glorious roller rink where she grew up. Now decrepit, the rink is soon to be demolished, but the memories are still very much alive in frequent flashbacks.
What are some of your favorite nonlinear shows or moments in shows? Let us know below!