Merrily We Roll Along at the Astoria Performing Arts Center
Merrily We Roll Along lasted 16 performances when it opened on Broadway in 1981. Despite Stephen Sondheim’s deep revisions and acclaimed revivals at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center and New York City Center’s Encores!, the musical still hadn’t quite shaken off its reputation as a failure. Now a borough away from Broadway, the Astoria Performing Arts Center eagerly embraces Sondheim’s take on show business in all of its acerbic brilliance.
Like Sondheim’s other musicals, Merrily We Roll Along is stunningly innovative. The 20-year friendship of composer Frank (Jack Mosbacher), lyricist/playwright Charley (Nicholas Park) and writer Mary (Ally Bonino) reveals itself in reverse chronological order, mainly occurring at a familiar Sondheim plot device, the cocktail party. Director Dev Bondarin wisely keeps the orchestration and staging to a bare minimum. The talented, multitasking chorus bridges the period of 1957-1977 moving what little scenery there is, taking on minor parts, singing about key world events of the featured year, and wearing unflattering styles from those two decades.
Another big departure from musical theater norm is that the lead character has no redeeming value…except talent. Frank is a user. He misses what the “blobs” (Sondheim’s 1970s term for One-Percenters) immediately notice: that his second wife Gussie (Lily-Ann Carlson) the Broadway diva is a bad influence, or that Charley wants friendship more than fame, and Mary loves him unconditionally. Mosbacher never tries winning the audience’s sympathy, which lessens whenever Frank squeezes his eyes together to take a “snapshot” of something.
Frank’s first wife Beth (Rachel Rhodes-Devey) takes the ultimate revenge on him with Not a Day Goes By. She sings it on the days of their divorce and marriage. Usually when a song re-appears it reinforces a character, which it does for Beth. However, when she and Frank sing it on their wedding day, Mary does as well. During that ballad in Act 2, Mary reveals herself as powerfully as Beth did.
The “problem” with Merrily We Roll Along is that it isn’t happy. It is risk-taking, enthralling – and Sondheim.
Merrily We Roll Along runs through May 23rd at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, for further information or to book visit here.
For further information on Merrily We Roll Along visit here.