Thursday, December 27, 2012

REVIEW: Merrily We Roll Along (London)

Menier Chocolate Factory (London), Saturday December 22

On to the 5th show of my 14 shows in 13 days marathon. Merrily We Roll Along is based on the play by Kaufman and Hart, this musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth charts the complex relationship between Franklin, Charley and Mary, from 1980 and then backward in time. Believe it or not, the musical was a flop and ran on Broadway for 16 performances only when it opened  in 1981! I have never seen a production of Merrily, yet I feel that I know the musical well as it has several well-known songs. Everytime I go to London, I rely heavily on the Official London Theatre website for all the listings, but for some reason, it didn't list this show at the Menier Chocolate Factory; but thanks to my friend Sandra, no opportunity missed!

For this production, triple Olivier award winner Maria Friedman makes her professional directorial debut at the Menier (interestingly, she was in this same musical 20 years ago). Overall, The production is a confident one from someone who understands Sondheim. There is a great sense of clarity not only in how the story was told, but also how music and words were communicated with precision without losing expression and emotion.  Just like a lot of the productions in Menier, set designs are kept creatively simple and for Merrily, Soutra Gilmour did just that. The Frank Stella art piece on the wall communicated period and made sense at the start of the show, but looked a bit too expensive as the cast became younger. If there is one thing that really bothered me was the hair and make-up. Most noticeable was the very very bad wig of Damian Humbley, playing Charley Kringas. Everything about his wig was wrong from color to fit. Considering that the show portrayed 20 years of characters' life, funny enough, their hair and make-up didn't change a single bit.

Playing the role of Franklin Shepard was Mark Umbers and he was absolutely fantastic. Franklin Shepard was not a likable character, but because Umbers managed to be charming and good looking, it made sense why he was able to keep his friends loyal to him. Damian Humbley's Charley was passionately and sincerely geeky... his desperation and frustration were heart-felt. Jenna Russell gave a touching performance of Mary Flynn, a character that is silently in love with Franklin and who has turned to alcohol to numb her pain. Other beautiful performances from the very competent company were Josefina Gabrielle as the stage star Gussie Carnegie and Glyn Kerslake as the ex-husband  and ex-producer Joe Josephson.

This is not the best musical in London right now, but for me, it is the most meaningful one. The musical still has its problems, but I would imagine that this is already an huge improvement from the original. As of this writing, this production has received very good reviews that it has already announced an extension of two more weeks to 9th March 2013. Good for Sondheim and good for Friedman!
 
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Merrily We Roll Along
Menier Chocolate Factory
Opened on November 16 2012
 
Based on the play by Kaufman and Hart
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Originally directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Originally opened on November 16 1981 at the Alvin Theatre
 
Creative Team: 
Direction - Maria Friedman
Design -  Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Design - David Hersey
Sound Design - Gareth Owen
Musical Supervision & Direction - Catherine Jayes
Choreography - Tim Jackson
Orchestration - Jonathan Tunick

Cast includes:
Damian Humbley - Charley Kringas
Jenna Russell - Mary Flynn
Mark Umbers - Franklin Shepard
Josefina Gabrielle - Gussie Carnegie
Glyn Kerslake - Joe Josephson
Matthew Barrow
Martin Callaghan
Clare Foster
Samantha Mercer
Noah Miller
Amanda Minihan
Kirk Patterson
Amy Ellen Richardson
Ashley Robinson
Tommy Rodger
Robbie Scotcher
Zizi Strallen
Joseph West
Joanna Woodward

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