After selling out night after night, tickets were like musical theatre gold dust for Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at The Menier Chocolate Factory. With the production transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the heart of London’s West End I was sure this production would be welcomed with open arms. It’s great to see a world class musical such as this transferring to a bigger theatre, allowing a wider audience to be truly blessed with the privilege of witnessing this wonderful production.
Merrily telling the story in reverse, with the show opening in the 1970s we witness the story of three best friends, taking us on an emotional journey right back to the beautiful moment where our characters first meet in the 1950s. The story revolving around Franklin Shepard we are told through a marvelous and truly hypnotic score, how he found his success and the difficult choices he made along the way. Was his success worth the sacrifices he had to make?
How do I put into words the performance I witnessed? Truth be told I don’t think I can; wonderful, marvelous and truly beautiful are words that may come close. Our friendly trio portrayed by Mark Umbers, Damian Humbley and Jenna Russell performed with a believable and honest chemistry. Mark Umbers is a leading man to be admired, playing composer Franklin Shepard with such heart, honesty and passion, a truly spectacular performance. Damian Humbley, playing lyricist Charley Kringas, with great stage presence delivered a grand portrayal with what seemed like such ease; he had the audience in the palm of his hands. Jenna Russell, delivering her performance of Mary with quick and perfect comic timing, had the audience tittering throughout as she tried to keep the friendship together with the underlying tones of falling in love. An ensemble that was equally as strong as their leading players, guiding us through the story with sharp ensemble singing and fabulous characterisation.
A production where acting through song is at its finest, I have to mention Clare Foster (playing Frank’s wife Beth) whose performance of Sondheim’s famous ‘Not a Day Goes By’ was a privilege to watch, moving and jaw-droppingly enchanting.
Congratulations to wardrobe/hair and make up for authentic and eye-catching looks. As the story goes back in time, so do the fashion trends, adding another dynamic layer to this fantastic production. A clean and simple apartment building was the set for this production which took on subtle decor changes as time rolled back.
Credit © Tristram Kenton
I can’t fault director Maria Friedman’s production – amazingly a directorial debut – and I can see why leading theatre critics have given this show ‘more 5 stars than any other musical in West End history’. With only a limited season Merrily We Roll Along is truly something special and should not be missed by anyone.
Review by Paul Toulson
Content updated 1st May 2014