Well last night was part 2 of the Stephen Sondheim Triptyche presented by Magnormos Productions. “Merrily We Roll Along” in concert. What a splendid night it was.
After the delights of “Saturday Night” last week my expectations were high and I wasn’t disappointed.
Merrily is one of my favorite Sondheim scores and I really love the show as well.
It was a big flop when it premiered on Broadway back in 1981, it played only 16 performances after a whopping 52 previews. It also marked the end of the famed Harold Prince-Sondheim collaboration. (They reunited for Bounce in 2003). The show was revised in 1994 and it is this version that Magnormos have chosen to present.
It has a book by George Furth and is based on a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart. Furth previously wrote the book for Sondheim’s Company.
The musical has an unusual structure as the story is told in reverse order. Starting out in the year 1976 and ending in 1954. It tells the story of 3 best friends, Franklin Shepherd – a successful Broadway composer, Charley – his collaborator/ lyricist and Mary – a successful novelist.
How did they get there from here?
At the beginning of the show we find that Franklin is a hugely successful film producer, having abandoned his friends Charley & Mary and his songwriting career. As the story rolls backward the show ends with the three young idealistic friends watching the arrival of sputnik with dreams of a bright future. Along the way we see snapshots of important moments in Franklin’s life, showing us what shaped the man he is today.
I find the structure fascinating, very powerful and moving, and Sondheim’s remarkable score is possibly the reason the show is such a success for me. Others might find it challenging as the leading character is not such a nice guy, although by the end of the show, which is really the beginning, we see that he was once was a nice guy. The message of the price to be paid for success at all costs is kinda depressing – but oh so true.
So onto the Magnormos concert. While not as tightly directed as last weeks presentation of Saturday Night, it was very well sung and acted. My there is some hot talent out there in the Australian theatre world. Chris Parker as Franklin while at first seemed a little one dimensional (hard to play an asshole), certainly improved in the second act where he was more innocent and idealistic – he captured this so well. Stephen Wheat as the downtrodden Charley was a standout, his big “meltdown” number “Franklin Shepherd Inc”. had just the right amount of anger, frustration and disappointment – it was the highlight for me. Laura Fitzpatrick as Mary gave a wonderful entertaining, cynical (not bitter), funny and very moving performance. The secondary characters of Beth (Franklin’s wife), Gussie (Franklin’s mistress – then wife), and Joe (his producer), were all so very good. The rest of the ensemble all had their moments.
The big letdown for me was the choreography for the ensemble. It was third rate Fosse in it’s style and seemed inappropriate a lot of the time. Sometimes it came from nowhere and made me laugh for the wrong reasons. Still it is a minor quibble of an excellent presentation.
It is so good to see this show performed. Thank you Magnormos.
Next week – “Anyone Can Whistle”. I can’t wait!