Musical flop on movie reviews

Everybody gets the fact that after a dream comes true it can still fall apart. And then what? That’s the intriguing question answered in the affecting, but uneven documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.”

Co-written and directed by Lonny Price, the film revisits Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical flop “Merrily We Roll Along.” Any theater nerd knows the cautionary tale that producers tell their children at bedtime. Price’s documentary covers the show’s creation, shocking failure and far- and long-reaching aftershocks.

Price knows his subject. He was one of the stars in the show and like other wide-eyed castmates 35 years ago, including a pre-“Seinfeld” Jason Alexander, felt like he’d hit the jackpot at the time. No wonder. The musical marked the latest new collaboration of composer-lyricist Sondheim and director Hal Prince, each riding high after a decade of hits. Among them, “Company.” D.A. Pennebaker’s fascinating 1970 doc covered the recording of that show’s cast album.

The musical “Merrily,” like the play it’s based on, is told in reverse. Disillusioned and corrupted middle-aged friends become their younger, optimistic selves with each scene. The show had big things to say about friendship, betrayal and disappointment. Good stuff. But the show all went wrong thanks to various reasons and poor decisions. The bond between Sondheim and Prince snapped. Shellshocked young performers reeled from the harsh reality bite.

In the film’s superior first half, Price weaves fresh interview material with already-filmed footage from an in-the-works documentary which had been abandoned. The young performers’ OMG! enthusiasm is contagious. The same goes for Sondheim’s music — the show’s score is chockablock with hits. But the failure of “Merrily” is exposed halfway into the doc, which is too early. Too much of the movie consists of where-are-they-now chats with now middle-aged ex-“Merrily” alums.

The film’s second act packs a bittersweet punch, along with the fact that the failed show is now much-respected. But all of that could have been tied up in a quicker epilogue. The chorus, so to speak, lacks a hook. Too bad, considering that, to quote a Sondheim song from the show, they “had a good thing going.”