When Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in 1981 it was a resounding flop, closing after just sixteen performances. One of the reasons put forward for its demise was that producer Hal Prince had chosen to cast young performers for a show that started with the characters in their forties and went backwards in time ending with the characters in their early twenties. So, it’s a brave move of the Guildhall School to put on a production of the piece as a showcase for their final year students but one that was well worth taking.
Merrily We Roll Along was Stephen Sondheim’s long-awaited follow up to Sweeny Todd and the two musicals couldn’t be more different. Merrily We Roll Along is based on a play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by George Furth. It tells the story of a composer Franklin Shepherd, his best friend, lyricist Charley Kringos and their writer friend Mary Flynn. However rather than the conventional telling of such a story, Merrily starts in 1976 with Charley and Franklin both successful but no longer friends having gone their separate ways with Mary disgusted by the people Franklin is now associating with and how he’s chosen to live his life.
The story then unfolds backwards through the seventies and sixties telling the story of how this situation came about and ends in 1957 with the three friends at the beginning of their journey through life, idealists and dreamers, anticipating a future that the audience now knows is not going to go exactly as planned. At the very end of the show, on a rooftop in New York they sing the fabulous “Our Time” which it is, although they don’t realise, this is probably the happiest they will ever be.
The Guildhall School have put on a superb production to showcase their final year actors and to a certain extent, disprove the theory that Sondheim’s musical only works with older actors who can act younger, rather than young actors who have to age upwards, although at times in this production it is a bit of a stretch of the imagination.
The large cast of over twenty fill the large Silk Street Theatre with youthful energy and brio. The orchestra of sixteen student musicians fill the theatre with a big band sound and give their fellow students superb accompaniment. The set design from Adam Wiltshire is of West End standard with big production values as well as a screen telling us what year it is (another criticism of the original Broadway production was the confusion of where the story was at any given time). The costumes are perfect for the period and add to the overall excellent quality of the production.
The three main actors, Oli Higginson (Franklin), Joseph Potter (Charley) and Julia Randall (Mary) are all excellent with Potter the stand-out performance of the evening – look out for him in the future. All in all, this is the perfect showcase for the class of 2019 – let’s hope there are some agents and producers out there looking for new talent – they’ll certainly find some merrily rolling along at the Guildhall School.
Review by Alan Fitter
Based on George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s classic 1934 play, Merrily We Roll Along is the story of three lifelong friends in reverse chronology, with the clock ticking backwards from 1976 to 1957. Set in New York, a successful but disillusioned composer and his two estranged friends experience the highs and lows of friendship, compromise and the high price of success. Sondheim’s brilliantly melodic score coupled with his sharp and piquant observations of human frailty makes for a witty and poignant story about the importance of staying true to one’s hopes and aspirations.
Steven Edis musical director
Ewan Jones choreographer
Adam Wiltshire designer
James Smith lighting designer
Charlie Smith sound designer
Chris Ma associate musical director
Jordan Angell (Jerome); Nick Apostolina (Joe Josephson); Brandon Ashford (Terry); Declan Baxter (Hank/Mr Spencer); Isabella Brownson (Gussie Carnegie); Chloe Caemmerer (Dory/Mrs Spencer); Harvey Cole (Bunker); Elena Faverio (Scotty); Lydia Fleming (Meg Kincaid); Poppy Gilbert (Jeanie/TV Newscaster); Dominic Gilday (Pete); Oli
Higginson (Franklin Shepard); Uri Levy (Ru); Mirren Mack (Joanne); Wyatt Martin (Tyler); Matthew Nikitow (Chuck/Photographer); Joe Partridge (Luke); Joseph Potter (Charley Kringas); Naomi Preston-Low (Susie); Julia Randall (Mary Flynn); Erica Nicole Rothman (Beth Spencer); Kalungi Ssebandeke (Slim/TV Newscaster); Laurel Waghorn (K.T.) Guildhall School is delighted to present Merrily We Roll Along as its 2019 summer musical, the School’s first production of the musical since giving its 1983 European premiere. The production opens on 2 July for 10 performances with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, from the book by George Furth. Martin Connor directs alongside musical direction by Steven Edis and choreography by Ewan Jones. The creative team is completed by designer Adam Wiltshire, lighting designer James Smith and sound designer Charlie Smith.