Friday, 10 May 2013

Merrily We Roll Along the Musical: Theatre Review

Based on the 1934 play of the same name, Merrily We Roll Along originally opened on Broadway in 1981 to a very poor reception. It officially opened on the 16th November 1981 to mostly negative reviews but the score by Sondheim was widely praised. It closed after only 16 performances and 52 previews. An off-West End production opened (with Maria Friedman) in 1992 at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester and ran for three weeks. A West End production opened at the Donmar Warehouse in 2000 where it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical and it now has returned to the West End, this time transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre from the Menier Chocolate Factory directed by Maria Friedman. 
Merrily We Roll Along follows three best friends, Franklin Shepard, Mary Flynn and Charles Kringas. It’s a story of friendship and how working with your friends can destroy and strengthen relationships. Throughout the show Franklins love life is one of the main stories, showing his relationships crumble and blossom with Beth and Gussie and of course Mary and Charles. The show actually goes backwards, so the last scene is first and the first scene is the last. This may sound confusing but the way Sondheim has written the show it flows really well and is clearly stated what and where they are in each scene. 

I found this show so random, not in a bad or good way, it was just random! I think that Stephen Sondheim and George Furth wanted to tell a story of pain, heartbreak, love and all those emotions one comes in contact with throughout life but without having a tragic ending so with them setting it out in the way they have you start by seeing the characters struggle but by the end you see three friends whose love for each other is almost refreshing to see at the end of a show; its ends on a nice happy note! Although it does kinda seem that someone said “this show isn’t interesting enough, lets put it backwards!” One thing that is so important with a show like this is that the audience understand what is going on and don’t get confused at any points and this production does that so well. 
Maria Freidman understands this show so well, with her being in it in 1992 she understands the needs of the characters greatly. The progression of the characters is so obvious even though it goes backwards. The design of the show, by Soutra Gilmour, is good. The apartment looking set  fits every location with minor changes being made to it although its but overall its pretty mediocre and I have to say I wasn’t overly amazed by the quality of it. One thing I really hated was that big circle thing on the left of the back wall, what the hell was that?! But anyway, Nothing was incredibly outstanding about it but it was ok. Tim Jackson choreographs this production, again, nothing amazing but still a valued contribution to the overall enjoyment of the show. 
I would like to make a special mention for David Hersey who lights this production, His work on this show really is exquisite. A really clever design and he manages to transform the simple set into really defined locations. I’m thinking an Olivier award is coming his way for his work on this production. Mark Umbers plays Franklin Shepard in the show and by god is he incredible! He really carries the show without over powering the story or other characters. Its heartbreaking to watch his relationships crumble in the show, he really has been perfectly cast. Jenna Russell’s performance was really impressive, her comic timing was spot on and I really can’t fault her. She looked and played the part immensely and really is a fantastic actress. Damian Humbley’s performance of  'Franklin Sherpard Inc." was incredible, the biggest cheer of the night from the audience was very well deserved afterwards! 
Clare Foster looks a little young to play the older Beth for me but she played the younger Beth beautifully, joy just flooded out of her whilst she was on stage after (or before?!) her divorce to Franklin and it was really nice to watch her play the part nearer the end. Josefina Gabrielle is another example of how well this show has been cast, she is just perfect in the role! I saw her in a show a while ago and I really wasn’t too keen on her but this show really has changed my mind. The ensemble are really the ones who make this show though, they pull everything together with a clean slickness and they manage to really make the transitions between scenes flow so well. A special mention has to go to Joanna Woodward and Zizi Strallen who really stood out to me, whenever they were on stage I couldn't take my eyes off them. 
This is a nice production, I can’t say I’m overly impressed with it and I definitely didn’t walk away wanting to buy more tickets to see it again. I wouldn’t rush to catch this production but if you get the chance to see this show then go and see it because its a nice show. However I can’t write this review and not be honest, I did have a good time. Anyone can say what they want about a show, what they liked and what they didn’t, but if you enjoyed the production then thats the most important thing. And I certainly did enjoy it! The cast really are top quality and its worth a trip just for them. 

Rating: ***

Merrily We Roll Along is currently running at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Cast Includes: Damian Humbley, Jenna Russell, Mark Umbers, Matthew Barrow, Martin Callaghan, Clare Foster, Josefina Gabrielle, Glyn Kerslake, Samantha Mercer, Noah Miller, Amanda Minihan, Kirk Patterson, Amy Ellen Richardson, Ashley Robinson, Tommy Rodger, Robbie Scotcher, Zizi Strallen, Joseph West and Joanna Woodward.

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