Despite a number of scripted comments concerning drama critics as ‘the enemy’, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my evening with Merrily We Roll Along. As many amongst you will know, whilst the darling of the musical theatre world, Sondheim is notoriously difficult for a performer to master, and this cast did a bang up job.
Merrily We Roll Along is the story of Franklin Shepherd (Alex Clements), and works in reverse over twenty years of his life, detailing everything he gave up for the sake of success.
I say without question that I, for the most part, could not fault the principle cast. All the characters have the difficult task of developing their characters in reverse. Both Alex Clements as Franklin Shepherd and Daniella Gambier as Mary Flynn achieve this wonderfully, with stunning dramatic and vocal performances.
Aimee Batchelor is delightfully obnoxious as Broadway diva Gussie Carnegie, and (in the most fantastic way!) has perfected a simpering grin that you makes you want to get up on stage and smack it off. The most emotionally stirring single performance came from Stacey Barnett as Franklin’s first wife Beth Spencer. She has a presence on stage you simply cannot ignore.
Without a doubt, my favourite member of the cast by far was Sevan Keoshergerian as Franklin’s long suffering collaborator Charley Kringas. Covering entire emotional spectrum in a heartbeat, you will be rooting for him from the moment he comes on stage to the moment he takes his final bow.
But above all else, despite the romance narratives and the scandals and the broken hearts that these characters endure, the relationship that will have you engaged throughout is that between Charley and Frank. The dynamic between Clements and Keoshergerian is infectious. They bounce off one another well enough that you could really believe they’d been friends for twenty years.
This is a show that is held up predominantly by its principle cast, which leads me into my first of two criticisms. Whilst the chorus seemed to have a very defined sense of character, and were thoroughly committed to the performances they were giving, vocally they were often a little insipid. This was particularly apparent in the transitory music between the years of Frank’s life, and when chorus members without mics had solo lines in big, loud, musical numbers.
Additionally, the limited choreography in the show was a little lacklustre. The routines themselves were appropriate to the tone of the show, but those performed by the chorus were often performed with very little conviction. They could have done with a little tightening up. This, however, was not the case for the routines performed by the principle cast. The dances for ‘Old Friends’ and ‘Bobbie and Jackie and Jack’ were funny, tightly performed, and thoroughly entertaining.
All in all, the ‘fun night’s entertainment’ promised by director Trini Philip was completely realised. The enemy sincerely hopes they continue merrily rolling along a successful run to closing night.
Tickets for Merrily We Roll Along are avaliable here.