National Youth Musical Theatre present their stunning production of Merrily We Roll Along (a 1981 American musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth) to the new Southwark Playhouse Elephant. This show captures Sondheim’s charm, whilst showing off the magnificent talent of this year’s NYMT cast. Here’s to a wonderful show that is like ‘damn few’.
The show presents the life of three friends, Franklin Shepherd played by Toby Owers, Charley Kringas played by Thomas Oxley and Mary Flynn played by Madeleine Morgan, but unlike other shows, it travels back in time. The beginning of the production throws us into the lavish party of Franklin, celebrating his new hit of a show. At first everything seems perfect, champagne is flowing and Franklin charmingly sweeps around the party. However, not everything is as it seems as the night quickly descends into Franklin’s wife leaving him and his best friend Mary giving a humiliating (but hilarious) drunk speech, exposing Franklin as a sell-out. From this opening scene we travel back, tracing the steps to see how and why the characters got to be here. The show is timeless, as it captures audience’s hearts with songs that are centred around growing up, growing apart from friends, unrequited love and chasing your dreams.
It feels particularly timely to be putting on this production as WGA strikes are taking place in Hollywood. The blob, or, ‘The ones that know everyone, that everyone knows’, perfectly frames the world of showbiz, which is centred around chasing more money and more fame, rather than the well-being and support of writers and artists. Franklin is pulled left and right, striving for more and more money for his composing career. All of the main cast capture the ups and downs of the musical, and of their character’s lives as we move through the show. Charley wants Franklin to focus on enjoying their creative craft, Beth is trying to hold her and Franklin’s marriage together, Gussie is tempting him away and Mary wants to preserve their special friendship.
Two of my favourite songs in the show were Franklin Shepherd Inc. performed by Oxley, this song takes such skill to pull off due to its fast pace and frantic delivery, but Oxley hits every beat and is captivating to watch. Similarly, Our Time, the final song, brought tears to my eyes. Owers, Oxley and Morgan are breath-taking on stage before all of the ensemble enter and fill the room with mellifluous harmonies. A truly moving moment.
Director Kather Hare and Musical director Leigh Thompson have brought to life Sondheim’s world, executing every element in the score and script. My only complaint is that it isn’t on for a longer run. Best of luck to all the NYMT cast, I know their future will be very bright. It truly is their time to come through!
It runs until 26 August.
Review: Isabelle Tyner Photo Konrad Bartelski