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Merrily We Roll Along

a Musical (Concert only)
by George Furth (book) and Stephen Sondheim (songs)

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 5363

SHOWING : October 05, 2018 - October 07, 2018



Join us for a three-night-only concert staging of this rarely-produced Sondheim classic about the clash of personal and professional ambitions between three old friends. One of Sondheim’s most fascinating shows, it features arguably his greatest score, which includes such musical theatre standards as “Old Friend,” “Good Thing Going” “Our Time” and “Not a Day Goes By.”

Director Freddie Ashley
Joe Josephson Skyler Brown
Ensemble Chase Davidson
Gussie Carnegie Natasha Drena
Beth Spencer Laura Floyd
Mary Flynn Jessica Miesel
Ensemble Trevor Perry
Ensemble Amy Reynolds
Ensemble Mary Saville
Charlie Kringas Juan Carlos Unzueta
Franklin Shepard Craig Waldrip
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The Hills of Tomorrow
by playgoer
Sunday, October 7, 2018
The original Broadway production of "Merrily We Roll Along" was a flop, due to the youth of its cast, its underwhelming physical production, and book problems. The failure was not due to Stephen Sondheim’s score (although I would suggest that the number "Bobby and Jackie and Jack" is inappropriate to suggest the promise of a composer, since the lyrics are what make the song). With revisions over the years, "Merrily We Roll Along" is finally in shape to work as a book musical whose scenes flow backward in time.

Actor’s Express is presenting the show in concert, with only a bare minimum of staging by Freddie Ashley, consisting primarily of cast members moving from one music stand to another. Costumes don’t change; lighting doesn’t change; the set (consisting of assemblages of rectangles on the upstage wall) doesn’t change. The only change is in projections on the main rectangle that give the year in which action is about to occur. It’s basic staging, but it’s adequate for the needs of the concert production. There’s even a tiny bit of dance choreography, in the number "Bobby and Jackie and Jack."

Sound design, by James Cash, uses seven upright microphones at the music stands to amplify the 14 voices of the cast and electronic hookups to broadcast music emanating from the two keyboards (played by music director Kevin Robison and by David G. Artadi-Beno) and the upright bass (played by Gabriel Monticello). There’s also drum playing by Dennis Durrett-Smith, and that comes through loud and clear. In fact, everything comes through loud and clear. When a musical number consists of a solo vocal line with contrasting ensemble interjections, it can be hard to pick out individual words. Not all singers are equidistant from their microphones, so loudness and softness can vary. All in all, though, sound levels are pretty good without being painfully loud.

Actor’s Express has assembled a number of first-rate singer/actors to present the material. They all have strong voices, and all make a good stab at appropriate characterization. There’s not a shred of a New York City feel, though, although that’s where the action is ostensibly taking place. The ensemble (Andy Stanesic, Brandy Sexton, Mary Saville, Amy Reynolds, Trevor Perry, Chase Davidson, Taylor Bahin, and Curtis Lipsey III) all take on various small roles with verve, and the principals often act as chorus members too.

Our lead, composer Franklin Shepard, is played by the powerfully voiced Craig Waldrip, ensonced in a suit throughout. His lyricist, Charley Kringas, is played by sweet-voiced Juan Carlos Unzueta. Jessica Miesel plays their long-time pal Mary Flynn, and her portrayal of the character’s arc is the most affecting of all. Joe Josephson, a big-time producer, is played by strong-voiced Skyler Brown. His Broadway star wife (and eventually Franklin’s wife) is played by Natasha Drena with a diva’s flair. Laura Floyd plays Franklin’s first wife with sweet appeal. The performances are all successful (especially Ms. Miesel’s), but the non-stop belting of the musical numbers gets a bit tiring.

Mr. Ashley has assembled a cast and production hurriedly, and it shows in occasional word slip-ups, even though cast members have access to printed scripts and music. Sondheim’s word-heavy lyrics are given their due, though, and his music is played and sung wonderfully. "Merrily We Roll Along" has what I consider to be Sondheim’s most accessible score, and Actor’s Express is letting it be heard loud and clear over just a few days. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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