Review: Merrily We Roll Along

Charlotte Wylie 11 May 2012

Merrily We Roll Along

ADC Mainshow, 7.45pm, until Sat 12 May

I didn’t see you at the opening night of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” at the ADC last night. Were you in the library? Look, I’m not angry, I know it’s exam term and sometimes you decide to sacrifice doing nice things to spend more time working. But, seeing as it’s exam term and judging by the “Library Whispers” website people are slightly on edge, why not treat yourself and go see the best production currently in Cambridge? You deserve it, you work so hard.

“Merrily We Roll Along” takes a look at the decisions we make in life that define us: the compromises, the mistakes, the moments of brilliance and the friends who will stay by our side throughout, or not. How much are you willing to sacrifice for your dream? And when you get it, is it what you really want? The life in question is that of Franklin Shepard, an aspiring composer, and his best friends Mary and Charlie. Director Josh Stamp-Simon has assembled a superlative cast, bringing not only strong singing but also genuinely moving performances. As Franklin Shepard, Joey Batey shines, bringing exactly the right combination of arrogance tinged with regret as a successful Hollywood producer, to the wide eyed innocence and idealism of a young man who thinks “we can change the world”. A close second is Ellie Nunn’s Mary, who is obviously and hopelessly in love with the oblivious Franklin. Using humour and alcohol to shield her pain, it is the stolen moments where Mary catches herself staring at Franklin a fraction too long which are truly moving. I found myself watching Mary more than any other character. The funniest and most unhinged song of the night came from Andrew Room as Charlie. Participating in a joint television interview with Franklin, Charlie reveals his true feelings in “Franklin Shepard Inc.” His impression of their secretary is worth the ticket price alone. As Franklin’s current and ex wives, Sandra McKenzie and Jess Peet are excellent, despite my constant wish that Franklin would realise that Mary would be great for him. The squirming producer and ex-husband of Sandra Mckenzie’s broadway star, Joe, played by Phil Arathoon provided comic relief in darker moments and was close to stealing several scenes. The ensemble were also excellent, it’s frankly quite sickening how good they were.

Director Josh Stamp-Simon made the right call by keeping the scenery and costumes minimal, so that we could focus on the excellent performances and music. I can see it would be tempting to convey the differing time periods with a selection of different fashions, but by keeping to a simple palette of grey, white and black, Stamp-Simon created a show which was a pleasure to watch. I really can’t find fault with “Merrily We Roll Along”, I know I wasn’t the only person who left humming the songs. So, if you only do one thing this week apart from revision, go see “Merrily We Roll Along”, you won’t regret it.

Charlotte Wylie