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Merrily We Roll Along

Photo by Clare Hawley

Little Triangle presents, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth, at the The Depot Theatre, Addison Rd, Marrickville. 7 – 24 March.

This is the second production from this young company Little Triangle. The first was, last year, when they presented Stephen Sondheim’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. It seemed to me a herculean proposition and one ‘doomed’ to an unhappy end. To my surprise (and unhappy regret that I was so presumptuous ) the word-of-mouth could hardly praise that theatre experience enough. And I had heard from people that knew of what they were talking – it became a sell-out and I couldn’t get a ticket.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG is a musical from Sondheim of 1981 and sits between the great hits of SWEENEY TODD (1979) and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984). ‘MERRILY’ was a surprise Sondheim failure and closed after 57 previews and only 16 performances on Broadway. It is based on a 1934 play of the same name by George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart. George Furth, the Book writer for this musical updated the time frame to 1976 -1957 and begins with the jaundiced celebrations of the hero’s triumphant Hollywood career as a film producer and then rewinds the clock to go backwards through time to recall other turning points in the relationship between three young excited aspirants for the arts: Franklin Shepard (Patrick Howard), Charley Kringas (Zach Selmes) and Mary Flynn (Victoria Zerest), finishing in 1953 in their college days.

This young company, with very young artists under the Direction of Alexander Andrews, have simplified the Design aspect (Design is also by Mr Alexander Andrews) – to the black box of this intimate ‘room’ space that is the Depot Theatre stage with a series of nine suspended white doors (OPEN NEW DOORS) on the back wall emblazoned with the year date for each of the episodes, with spare but necessary movable furniture and properties – with the Musical accompaniment reduced to two musicians with only two keyboards, a cello and a double bass led by Antonio Fernandez. It has been amazingly orchestrated and fulfils all expectations of the musical element of the writing.

I have seen this musical before and although of a minor nature in contrast to the famed works is a more than charming piece. The music is jaunty in its propulsion and has enough of the genius marks of the Sondheim milieu to keep one captured and enraptured – the lyrics are, as usual, a standout. What Mr Andrews, as Director has done is to keep the focus of the work on the dramatic spine of the characters journey without too much distraction from the burden of Design elements of nine periods – keeping everyone virtually in the same costume over the long time arc (Costume and Props, Mitchell Wassink) and with an uncomplicated choreographic choice. The emphasis is then on the song lyrics and the book development – the story and Mr Sondheim’s point-of-view is as clear as a bell.

The full company of actor/singers are agile in their all their responsibilities and have the confidence of a well drilled and passionate co-hort that are enjoying the ensemble demands of Sondheim in this work. That it is being led by Patrick Howard in the leading role of Franklin Shepard is a great boon, for Mr Howard is extremely secure and handles the dramatics of the book well and has a voice of some power and nuance and leads the ensemble through the journey with leadership qualities that mirror the charisma of his actual character. The other principals, Zac Selmes, Victoria Zerest are surrounded with clearly defined work from Matilda Moran (Gussie), Shannen Sarstedt (Beth) and Richard Woodhouse (Joe).

Little Triangle are ambitious but also are very wise (canny). They are young and talented and so far have ‘hitched’ their efforts onto one of the greats of the Musical Theatre repertoire, Stephen Sondheim, who really cannot be less than good (though sometimes problematic) in any of his works thus far written. The company could not be better supported than by the quality of the writing, and with what I saw as discipline, clarity and meticulous harnessing of their passion, they have cleverly ‘cut their cloth’ (production) to the circumstances of their theatre to artistically solve the material to give its audience a no-frills but more than enjoyable time.

It seems to me that Little Triangle have another ‘HIT’ on its hands within the modest circumstances of their company’s resources. I recommend MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG as worth a visit. I am so glad I took my self-admonishment to heart and ensured that I took in this production.

N,B. This production is using the revised version.