Merrily We Roll Along***** (Menier Chocolate Factory, 28 December 2012)

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Theatre

Maria Friedman has built a considerable reputation as a performer of Stephen Sondheim’s work and she clearly brings all of her experience into play in directing this revival of his 1981 musical. The characterisations and the interpretation of the lyrics are spot-on throughout and the 18-strong cast, led by Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley are uniformly superb. This is hard core Sondheim, probably not for the unconverted; the writer is at his most introspective examining the conflicts between financial gain and artistic integrity in the lives of songwriters and assessing the value of real friendships in the shallow worlds of Broadway and Hollywood. Furthermore, there are no instantly recognisable hit songs and the story defies convention by running backwards in time. With these handicaps, it is hardly surprising that the original Broadway production was a dismal flop but, at this small venue and in the hands of this team, it begins to look like a minor masterpiece. Every word of every intricate lyric serves to develop the narrative or to provide further insight into the characters, giving a cumulative effect that is utterly heart-rending. Yet another triumph for the Menier.

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