Merrily We Roll Along – Menier Chocolate Factory US screening (review)

First, thank you to Fathom Productions for bringing the West End musical version of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along to American audiences — sold out in NYC, 30 people in the theater here in Ann Arbor… its a great risk, and a tremendous thank you.


Second — I directed this same version of the show many years ago here in Ann Arbor. Just like this past week, it left me scratching my head…its a show with such a terrific score, and such a horrific book.  The late Ron Fracker and I specifically wanted to pick a show that would be assessable to the student actors in his musical theater program. We learned only after contracts had been signed that the original Broadway version was no longer available, only the uber-serious York Theater revisal. And so it went. I thought we did a darn good job — and compared to what I saw at the theater this past week, we did a DAMN good job.

Third — I don’t get the rave reviews this show got in London. It was certainly a very well directed and acted production of the problematic show — but it certainly wasn’t any better than any American version of the show I have seen. A great production of a bad show is still a mediocre evening overall.

I very much enjoyed Mark Umbers’ Franklin, Jenna Russell’s Mary, and Damien Humbley’s Charlie. The trio worked well together (even if Russell was a bit pitchy here and there), and you could clearly see the chemistry in their triad. Supporting players were solid. American accents came and went, particularly in the ensemble.

As has been the case since the inception of the show, the Second Act worked better than the first, of course all the best songs are crammed into those final scenes.

Among the more curious moments: editing which kept cutting away from Mary during the reprise of “Not a Day Goes By”…that song is about HER…what the….the extreme close-up of Beth during her original “Not a Day” when she most strained to hit the high notes…the cuts made in “Musical Husbands” at the start of Act II…and the curiously flat “Its our Time” finale.

Again, thank you Fathom — but I don’t get the British 5-star reviews.


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