Theatre review - Merrily We Roll Along

Posted on: 11 December 2012 by Agatha Cheng

Superb and enjoyable West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along at Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by Maria Friedman.

A show which flopped on Broadway, closing after just 16 performances, has now become a sparkling success in Maria Friedman’s superb production of Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along (Menier Chocolate Factory).

The story charts the turbulent relationship between three friends, Franklin, Charley and Mary over three decades in the entertainment industry. The narrative itself unfolds in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1976, when the characters are shown in compromised middle age, and then, gradually scene by scene we go back in time, finally reaching 1957 when the trio first met and become devoted friends, full of hope for the future. We witness all the damage that time, wrong choices and bad faith have inflicted on them, in particular how Hollywood producer Franklin Shepard lost his illusions, sacrificed his musical talent and broke up with his old chums, Charley and Mary, culminating in a sterile Hollywood party (the opening scene), by which time all the characters’ dreams have been dashed – a long way from the poignant optimism of their first meeting.

If this all sounds depressing it is not, for this is an exhilarating show, both sweet and sour, sad and joyful, and full of emotional depth and, as the layers of cynicism are peeled away, we can’t help but be moved by the wide-eyed wonderment of the three protagonists. Adapted from the book by George Furth, which in turn is based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the dialogue is sharp and snappy, while Sondheim’s haunting, clever score captures the waspish humour of Furth’s book. Furthermore Soutra Gilmour’s sleek designs perfectly evoke the changing times and fashions.

Mark Umbers brings a mixture of charm and swagger t the role of the commercially ambitions Franklin making his transformation from aspiring musical theatre writer into Hollywood hack totally believable. Jenna Russell is deeply touching as Mary, a woman who secretly yearns for Franklin and becomes an alcoholic to numb her pain, while Damian Humbley makes his mark as Charley, the geeky lyricist who turns on his writing partner during a live TV interview.

This show is certainly something to sing about and fully warrants a West End transfer!

It was cue to run until February 23 2013 but the period has now been extended well into March.

Box office: 020 7378 1713 (Special meal deals are offered which included a two-course pre-theatre supper + show at price from £37.50 - £43)

By Laurence Green

Photos by Tristram Kenton ©

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