In the disorienting and dank atmosphere of the nightclub Cindies, the ADC on Tour production of Merrily We Roll Along immediately transports you to a bustling and electric mid-century New York City. With innovative direction by Alistair Henfrey and a positively energized cast, my toes were immediately tapping along to the tunes; you can’t help but smile while watching this production, even in spite of the ever-present, stale scent of beer and sweat.
Merrily We Roll Along tells the story of the famous, American composer-turned-movie producer Franklin Shepard in reverse. Spanning from the late 1970s to the mid-1950s, this Sondheim classic covers the numerous romantic affairs and the tight-knit friendship between Franklin, the lyricist Charley Kringas, and the successful author Mary Flynn. As the musical unfolds, the zeal and hope of these three creatives returns as they move backwards in time, towards the beginning of their careers.
With the stage flanked by disco balls and most of the furniture constructed using light-up boxes of various colors, this production seemed to lean in to its nightclub setting. The staging was especially effective when it utilized unconventional entrances and exits as well as the mixed levels already built into the space. The simple choreography of the production supported the complex, emphatic quality of the legendary music, expertly directed by Michael Cullen.
The three-piece at the centre of the production – Frank, Charley, and Mary – played by Henry Eaton-Mercer, Mariam Abdel-Razek, and Amaya Holman respectively gave notably strong performances. Eaton-Mercer developed a charming and lovable Frank; he was particularly good at communicating the changing age and perspective of his character throughout the show. With their exceptional singing voices, Abdel-Razek and Holman led the production vocally while effectively demonstrating the warm camaraderie and care between the three friends. Other cast standouts include the obnoxious and glamorous Gussie Carnegie, played fearlessly by Francesca Bertoletti, and the kindhearted Beth, played with great care by Rachel-Marie Weiss.
The production was only hindered by some inconsistent design elements, especially the costumes. The appearance of a Joy Division tee shirt and an entirely transparent polka dot dress were especially distracting since they added confusion to what was already a somewhat unclear timeline.
Ultimately, this production provided an energetic and feel-good respite from the seemingly unending anxiety of exam term. The themes surrounding love, loss, and the cost of success will likely touch any university student, especially when they’re delivered by such a stellar cast. After Friday and Saturday’s productions, ticketholders supposedly also get free admission to Cindies. If I were you, I’d combine your theatre study break and club night study break and make your way down to Cindies then.