Review – Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory

Wednesday 28 November 2012



Not if you’re familiar with Merrily We Roll Along which starts in 1976 and moves back through the years to 1957 and inspired Phil to write the review in reverse.

But unlike Stephen Sondheim, his book writer George Furth or Pinter or George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart who wrote the original play on which it’s based he’s not sharp enough for that. So he’ll leave it there.

Where was Andrew? “Not one of my favourite Sondheims” he’d grumped when Phil was booking for the Menier.

So it was a Whinger’s (note the apostrophe moving backwards too) outing of sorts. There were still six. Although one befuddled member of Phil’s party hadn’t noticed the years were going backwards by the interval. Now the Whingers are prone to getting things wrong but…

This is Sondheim stalwart (and WEW fave) Maria Friedman‘s professional directorial debut (she directed it at Central previously). According to the programme there was a telegram from Sondheim in the rehearsal room saying “To the Merrily We Roll Along Company, Do everything Maria tells you and I’ll come over in November to correct it. Steve”. How exciting! A telegram! We didn’t know they still existed. If anyone wishes to send us a telegram feel free, neither Whinger has ever received one. Perhaps Steve would like to practise his telegraphy on The Whingers?

It would be interesting to see what he does make of Maria’s efforts although as far as Phil could tell there’s not much to carp about. True, Phil had thought it was only “ok” by the interval, but by the end he was pretty much won over.

It’s a tale of a songwriting duo Franklin Shepard (Mark Umbers) and Charley Kringas (Damian Humbley) who discover that money and success isn’t all they’re cracked up to be. Relationships shatter and their best friend Mary (Jenna Russell) turns to the bottle. No SPOILER ALERT required, we establish all this from the off, what we see is the bitter irony of them getting younger and happier as the years count down without knowing what is ahead of them.

Friedman’s biggest trump is in the casting. The three leads plus Clare Foster as Franklin’s wife are all well-cast and almost convince us they’re getting younger despite some being towards the upper end of the required age spectrum.

Humbley’s terrific Act 1 delivery of “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” all but threatens to steal the show were it not for Josefina Gabrielle‘s predatory actress Gussie who dabbles with minor acts of petty larceny before moving to grand theft in her final scenes. And few of us could carry off a costume with more fringe than an Edinburgh Festival with greater poise than she does.

There’s a set by the newly-Evening Standard Awarded Soutra Gilmour, an overture that sent tingles up Phil’s spine, a satisfying though all-too-brief tap number and some Sweet Charity-ish groupings by choreographer Tim Jackson, wigs by Richard Mawbey plus – for Strallen musical completists – we have Zizi keeping up the ubiquitous family name with aplomb.

On the down side six out our six admitted to finding the auditorium unbearably hot which came as a massive relief to the one who thought she was having hot flushes. And there’s a camp man flouncing in a turban (you can almost forgive a turban), but fortunately not eliciting laughs as his equivalent in The Bodyguard. But then the audience didn’t laugh at the Rodgers and Hammerstein gag either which was a shame.

Unnecessary (in Phil’s view) saccharin is added with appearances of a small child (Milky Bar Kid lookalike Joseph West at this performance). A fluffy kitten hugging an Andrex puppy could hardly have produced more “Awwws” from those in the audience who’d clearly checked Sally Bercow wasn’t sitting next to them renewing her Twitter account.

And it’s a shame that the costumes didn’t keep up with the countdown of years. Presumably it was budgetary restraints or Phil growing up in the wilds of Wiltshire that prevented him seeing the wide lapel and miniskirt appearing as early as they he did here. Who would have thought New York was that far ahead of Westbury in the fashion stakes?

Anyway, lets hope Steve is as satisfied with Maria’s handling of his work as this Whinger was and she isn’t – as she suggests in the programme – “outside vomiting” when he drops by.


4 Responses to “Review – Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. JohnnyFox Says:

    True to form, he happened in reverse and Mr Sondheim dropped in before the opening night. Not spotted pavement-vomiting, I think that was Kate Middleton.

  2. Stevie Says:

    Perhaps I’m the problem and the great Sondheim is not for me; will try a few more yet. This reverse chronological story about friends, and that’s about it, is excellently presented and performed by the in-crowd of note. A few unknowns and wider casting might have added spark to yet another weak book that’s media-about-media. Audiences’ insatiable appetite for incestual entertainment is once again satisfied and proves you can con’ most of the people most of the time. A sell out show that’s a long way from its early Broadway (1981) failings but I’ll wager a transfer up West won’t hack it. I paid so I stayed, but a close call on something I’ve never done, walk out..

  3. […] Review – Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory […]

  4. Denatus Says:

    Went to see this. I have to admit I’m not a big Sondheim fan, but I’m afraid I was really, really bored by this show. Its really uninteresting. Lovely set. The performances were faultless. But its a real “who cares?” storyline. Unless you’re into Sondheim this is not a must see. Sorry.

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