MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG by Carol Kaufman Segal
Merrily We Roll Along is a musical based on a 1934 play written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1981, was written by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. So far, so good, so why did it close after only 16 performances after opening night?
Perhaps the story is a bit trite for today’s world, the same ole, same ole, where a boy makes good and it goes to his head! Perhaps, too, it is very difficult to keep things in perspective as the play begins and goes backwards in time starting in 1973 and digressing back to 1957.
The musical has been revived by theaters through the years, and doesn’t ever seem to click. However, Michael Arden , famed Director of the Deaf West Theatre’s revival of Spring Awakening at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts that went to Broadway, had high expectations of reviving Merrily We Roll Along at the same theater with a great cast that couldn‘t go wrong. (By the way, Arden makes his debut as The Wallis’ first Artist in Residence with this production.)
Playing at the Wallis through December 18, Merrily We Roll Along features the talents of Aaron Lazar (Franklin Shepard), five-time Emmy winner Wayne Brady (Charley Kringas) and Donna Vivino (Mary Flynn), who made her Broadway debut at the age of eight as the “Young Cosette” in Les Miserables.
As the story goes, in 1973 Franklin Shepard is a successful producer and songwriter who claims he is rich and happy. But then the play goes back in time, and we realize that he just puts on a good front. Frank is definitely not a happy man. By going back to the past years, we find him a happy go-lucky guy whose closest friends were playwright Charley Kringas and critic Mary Flynn. But as Frank became more successful, he had little regard for his friends or anyone else in his life.
We see what happens to a nice boy changing over the years due to greed and power, but it isn’t always easy to focus on the time periods, which makes the play cumbersome. The high point of the production and what keeps it rolling along is the wonderful Sondheim music and the performances by an exceptionally talented cast that also includes Amir Talai, Whitney Bashor, Saycon Sengbloh, and Maximus Brandon Verso.
The production plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM and 7 PM, through Dec.18. Tickets are available online at TheWallis.org, by phone at (310) 746-4000, or at the box Office at the theater which is located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills