Merrily We Roll Along

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth

Director: James Suckling

Musical Director: Liam Walker

Reviewer: Nick Le Mesurier – Leamington Courier

The ups and downs of show biz life were never more starkly revealed than in Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical Merrily We Roll Along. It’s a tale of rags to riches, or rather riches to rags, as this story is told backwards. We first meet Frank Shepard, talented composer of smash-hit musicals, in the late 70s when he is at the height of his fame, but not as a composer. He’s ditched the true love of his life, along with the friendship and loyalty of just about everyone who knows him, for Hollywood movie production and has made a lot of money in the process. The cost of his success is shown in a series of flashbacks over the years as we see Frank and his best friend and lyricist Charley Kringas regress to the point where they started as two young hopefuls, when what mattered was not just the music but the love.

The cast perform brilliantly. Chris Gilby-Smith is mesmeric as Frank, both innocent and guilty, a victim as well as a survivor, who gorges on success. Justin Steer is poignant as his nerdy, sincere, good-hearted lyricist friend Charley, who offstage wins a Pulitzer Prize for a stage play but is left behind in the gold rush that is Hollywood. I loved Vicky Holding’s performance as Mary, a one-hit novelist who has turned bitter through her unrequited love of Frank. And Nelle Cross as the seductress Gussie Carnegie beautifully embodied the ruthlessness that is the true spirit of Hollywood and Broadway.

The songs may not be the most hummable you’ve ever heard. But they and the story have a sticking power that remains with you. It’s a bold, intelligent and ambitious production that brings depth to the dazzle.

 

 

 

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