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Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

It’s hilarious, it’s shocking, it’s heartwarming, and Ann Morrison is in amazing voice. It's a Hit!

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

There was pandemonium at 54 Below on Tuesday night, and there should have been pandemonium at 54 Below Tuesday night because Ann Morrison presented the most wonderful new show, and the audience that was in the room wasn't just there for her, they were there for it. In her brand-new musical cabaret, MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE, Ms. Morrison spends a generous nearly eighty minutes sharing her memories of the legendary original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Merrily We Roll Along. To some, the musical is a legendary flop. To others, the musical is a legendary piece in the mosaic of their lives. Those who love Merrily We Roll Along love it like one loves a best friend, a favorite teacher, a first car, a special place, or a treasured event in one's life story. Whatever the facts in the actual history of the famed musical, Merrily We Roll Along has meant a great deal to many who love Broadway, who love Sondheim, or who love this particular show. For that reason, loving one of these three things is essential to the enjoyment of this new club act - indeed, for maximum rate of return at Morrison's one-woman show, the best-case scenario is being a Merrily We Roll Along superfan.

And that's pretty much the audience base at 54 Below on Tuesday - and that's a beautiful thing because everyone knew the place from which everyone else was coming, as they all ate up every minute of the show, right from Ann Morrison's hand.

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE Merrily From Center Stage is a musical memoir about a very specific time in Ann Morrison's life - a time that didn't last very long but that had a lasting effect that she is still feeling today - and even though this all happened some four decades ago, Morrison's memory seems to be in crystal clear snap-trap working order. The details that the singing actress produces in the script of her show are stunningly outlined and breathtakingly arranged for immaculate storytelling effect. What she and Musical Director John Shirley (with an assist from Creative Consultant Blake Walton) have done is take all of those memories, deconstruct them, reconstruct them, and then layer in the original Merrily score, also de-and-re-constructed, to tell the tale of the time before Merrily, the casting of Merrily, and the rehearsal of Merrily - a process that sounds harrowing enough to drive any actor out of show business. But it didn't. All three of the leads (and many of the ensemble members) of Merrily We Roll Along are still in show business, and still look back on this as a magical time. Like Lonny Price's documentary THE BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED, Morrison's musical play describes, ingeniously, the story of that time, only in her unique (and uniquely individual) way.

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE Dressed simply in comfortable sleepwear, Ann Morrison moves about the 54 Below stage, speaking directly to the audience, knowing that they are superfans, otherwise they wouldn't be here, and since they are superfans, she doesn't have to wait for them. She knows that they know every name she will mention. She knows that they will know from where, precisely, each musical phrase was lifted before being dropped into each specific portion of her monologue. She knows that they will get every reference, every joke, and every tug of every heartstring. With that assurance that the audience is with her, Ann Morrison moves at a speed that ranges from fast to breakneck, and it is one of the most delicious carnival rides a theater devotee ever went on. There is no pausing for applause, there is no time. There are no applause breaks even written into the masterfully crafted script. And as the laughter issues forth from the ardent audience, Morrison simply speaks a little louder, knowing they will all catch up. This is not cabaret. This is theater. That's the beautiful thing about Merrily From Center Stage: as long as there are Broadway fans, musical theater aficionados, Sondheimphiles, and Merrily superfans, Ann Morrison can present this piece of musical storytelling, and she can do it anywhere - a cabaret room, a college black box, an off-Broadway house, a regional theater, a women's club meeting hall, a community center, a parking lot. All Ann Morrison needs is a piano, a chair, and an audience that wants to hear this memoir. The level of storytelling is so exceptional that, even if a stranger who knew nothing about Merrily We Roll Along should buy a ticket on a lark or just wander in off the street wondering what all the laughter was about, they would benefit from Ann Morrison's delicious and delectable diatribe. But it's better if you're a superfan. Only then can a person truly appreciate that moment when Ann Morrison sings "Not A Day Goes By" and "Now You Know", or enjoy the glee of the incredible special lyrics created to replace Sondheim's in an effective effort to tell Ann's real story. And, then, there is the little matter of the highlights of the evening, hearing the original Mary Flynn sing "Our Time" and knowing, when the piano starts those famous opening notes, that you're going to cry, and the epic few minutes during which Ann Morrison performs "Opening Doors"... ALL of "Opening Doors"... all by herself. Every role. Every word. Every note. Every nuance. This number, alone, is worth seeing the show, but the truth is that Merrily From Center Stage is a tour-de-force performance (and script) from start to finish, and when Ann Morrison brings it back to Manhattan for a longer run, the people who missed it would be advised to catch it.

Speaking personally, when it happens this Merrily superfan will be at every single performance.

Find great shows to see on the 54 Below website HERE.

Visit the Ann Morrison website HERE.

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE

Review: Ann Morrison Makes 54 Below Audience More Than Merry With MERRILY FROM CENTER STAGE Photos by Stephen Mosher


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From This Author - Stephen Mosher