REVIEW: “Merrily We Roll Along” is an emotional ride


Photo credit/ Caitlin Ryerson

The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along” takes their bows following the final song of the show, “Our Time.”

After three years without a traditional musical, the Marywood Department of Music, Theatre and Dance brought the tradition back with a contemplative Steven Sondheim musical that leaves audiences thinking about the importance of old friends and new.

I found “Merrily We Roll Along” to be an interesting choice that spoke directly to the times. This musical is not a comedy and it is not a toe-tapper. It is a drama in its truest form–an emotionally evocative story that provides a unique outlook on the present day.

The choice is rather poetic. Instead of choosing a big flashy musical that would draw in the crowds, Marywood chose a small show that focuses on the choices we make and the repercussions that can follow. In a time when many old friends have grown apart due to the pandemic, the show makes the audience consider how valuable, yet fragile, those relationships can be. Especially to a college audience living through a transitional period of life, these ideas are powerful and as a graduating senior, they hit me hard.

Needless to say, I was impressed by the choice of show, but the execution was also very well done. The beating heart of this show was the on-stage chemistry between Franklin “Frank” Shepard, played by Gabe Jenceleski, Charley Kringas, played by Sean Wolfe, and Mary Flynn played by Dominique Ferraro. Throughout the entire show, the relationship between Frank, Charley, and Mary was a delight to watch, from the birth of their friendship to its demise, and each step and acting choice felt perfectly in line with their characters’ personalities.

Two notable examples, that happened to be two of my favorite scenes in the entire show, were the newscast scene, when Charley tears Franklin apart on air, and the finale, when the three friends sing together on the roof. Ferraro also played a very convincing drunk in the scenes when Mary had been drinking.

Additionally, Isabella Snyder did a terrific job portraying the part of Gussie Carnegie, a revolting character I wanted to throw a book at during most of the production. The character is certainly one you love to hate and Snyder performed the role beautifully.

All in all, it was obvious that the actors and actresses had put a lot of time and effort into the production. I appreciated their enthusiasm and energy throughout the entirety of the show.

However, it was also obvious that the actors and actresses were not the only ones who had put a lot of time into this show. For starters, the production had a full orchestra, who played the music admirably with plenty of emotion and pep.

The costume work was also very well done. I appreciated the way the clothing emphasized the three friends’ rise from rags to riches, having them go from bathrobes to tuxedos and fleshing out all of the in between.

Likewise, I loved the hanging lightbulbs that represented the stars in the finale, especially the red one for Sputnik. The child-like simplicity of it definitely added to the nostalgia of the moment as the three friends met for the very first time.

Nonetheless, this show had some flaws, but many of my gripes are with the show itself, not Marywood’s production of it. To start, the show unfolds chronologically backwards, meaning it starts with the end of the friendship and ends at the beginning, when Mary meets Frank and Charley. Although I found the idea to tell the story in reverse interesting and innovative, the execution is definitely confusing and hard to follow.

There are so many small details about the past that are foreshadowed before they are shown to the audience and many of them just get missed in the mix. The opening scene in particular is like drinking out of a fire hose of information as you try to get your grounding in the story. As a result, a lot of those cleverly placed details either get missed outright or end up pulling the audience members out of the show as they wonder, “Wait, was that something that was mentioned before?”

Add to the problem the intense pace of most of the songs and even more information gets lost. Don’t get me wrong, the actors made a valiant effort to spit out the words, but I have to admit there were times that I simply didn’t know what they were saying because the songs were just a little too fast.

Moreover, I found the songs to be a little tedious and redundant. Throughout the show, there are several songs that are repeated multiple times or drawn out and it felt a little much to me, especially since most of the songs are not super memorable. There are a few gems in there like “Old Friends” and “Our Time,” but in general most of the songs are not ones that will get stuck in your head. This may have been intentional, since the main conflict between Frank and Charley revolves mainly around the decision of what types of songs/shows they will write, but the result is still a little tedious for the viewer.

In short, I found Marywood’s production of “Merrily We Roll Along” to be a very good execution of an okay musical. Although I appreciate the themes of the show and their relevance to our current situation, I think the show falls flat in telling a clear and entertaining story.

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