Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews
Stephen Sondheim’s “biggest flop” returns to London at the Menier, a theatre with great Sondheim credentials as their hugely successful productions of ‘A Little Night Music’ and ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ both transferred to the West End and to Broadway. If that’s not enough of a draw, this production also marks the professional directorial debut of his long-time friend and collaborator Maria Friedman.
The score is one of Sondheim’s best, and from the opening bars of the overture I was merrily tapping my feet along.
The running order follows the revisions first seen in the 1992 Leicester Haymarket production in which Maria appeared; instead of opening with ‘The Hills ofTomorrow’ we go straight into ‘Merrily…’ and ‘That Frank’ (replacing ‘Rich & Happy’) and end with ‘Our Time’, giving a neater and less complicated finish to the told-in-reverse storyline.
This also means the inclusion of moving renditions of ‘Growing Up’, and hilarious ‘The Blob’ (cut from the original Broadway production), delivered with biting precision and smooth choreography not dissimilar to Fosse’s ‘Rich Man’s Frug’.
Another welcome addition for this version is the second act opening, Gussie’s finale to the show ‘Musical Husbands’, which provides a more glitzy opening to the second act than previous opener ‘It’s a Hit!’. Josefina Gabrielle clearly relishes the number, again with sprinklings of Fosse and even a cheeky reference to ‘Sunday in the Park…’.
The cast are superb – Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley are both convincing as hopeful wide-eyed youngsters and embittered disillusioned adults. I was most impressed by Mark Umbers who gets the character of Frank perfectly, a jumble of mixed-up emotion and ambition.
Other personal highlights include Damian Humbley’s frantic but convincing ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc.’, and a very physical rendition of ‘Bobby and Jackie and Jack’ – the first time I’ve been impressed by actors’ ability to point with precision and speed!
Franklin Shepard – Mark Umbers
Charley Kringas – Damian Humbley
Mary Flynn – Jenna Russell
Tyler – Ashley Robinson
Terry/Mr Spencer – Martin Callaghan
Scotty/Mrs Spencer – Amanda Minihan
Dory – Samantha Mercer
Ru – Matthew Barrow
Jerome – Robbie Scotcher
KT – Amy Ellen Richardson
Meg Kincaid – Zizi Strallen
Gussie Carnegie – Josefina Gabrielle
TV Newswoman – Joanna Woodward
Bunker/TV Newsman/Reverend – Kirk Patterson
Joe Josephson – Glyn Kerslake
Frank Jr – Noah Miller/Tommy Rodger/Joseph West
Beth – Clare Foster
Music & Lyrics – Stephen Sondheim
Book – George Furth
Based on the original play by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart
Director – Maria Friedman
Design – Soutra Gilmore
Choreography – Tim Jackson
‘Merrily We Roll Along’ has been extended to 9 March 2013.