Review Roundup: West End's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
The West End transfer of the stunning Menier Chocolate Factory production of the Sondheim/ Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along just opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Directed by triple Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman, the musical stars Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley, all reprising their roles as Franklin Shepard, Mary Flynn and Charley Kringas respectively.
Set over three decades in the entertainment business Merrily We Roll Along charts the turbulent relationship between three friends Franklin, Charley and Mary. Starting in 1980 and travelling backwards in time, this powerful and moving story features some of Sondheim's most beautiful songs including Good Thing Going, Not a Day Goes By and Old Friends.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: Josefina Gabrielle provides a decisive through-line as a ruthless Broadway actress. Strongly sung and confidently acted by leads and ensemble alike, it's a directorial debut of some distinction from actress Maria Friedman, herself an accomplished performer of Sondheim. Amid the froth and the blockbusters, an intelligent musical like this is greatly welcome in the West End.
Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph: If the engine is top-of-the-range, the 17-strong company are the equivalent of liquid engineering. Whether working in harmony, ingenious collective discord or individually, there isn't a weak link. Mark Umbers's handsome Franklin glows with get-ahead energy but radiates powerful levels of angst behind the assurance. Damian Humbley is terrific as his shambling, stubbornly anti-commercial lyricist pal Charley while Jenna Russell breaks your heart as the writer Mary, turned alcoholic and sardonic with unrequited love and unfulfilled promise. I'm sorry Book of Mormon: good as you are you don't come close to genius of this calibre.
Lyn Gardner, Guardian: A flawed diamond, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1981 musical flop polishes up beautifully in this revival by Maria Friedman. The show is so astute, it's hard to believe this story of three friends - creative types who start out wanting to change the world but must face up to the disillusionments of middle age - originally crashed and burned on Broadway.
Paul Taylor, Independent: The leading trio (Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley) give acting and singing performances that are now extraordinarily rich in texture, subtext and truthfulness through every beat of the drama. It's often said that Franklin Shepard, the composer who sells out, is too unattractive a protagonist to hold an audience's emotional interest. But Umbers takes you right inside his troubled nervous system and Russell and Humbley show how their laudable expectations of their friend are perhaps suffocatingly idealistic and burdensome, especially in the pivotal scene in 1968 in Frank's NYC apartment where, as superbly performed in this production, it's the well-meaning but counterproductive pressure on him more than any personal shittiness that seems to account for his switch of allegiance to Josefina Gabrielle's subtly angled Broadway diva Gussie.