Preview: Merrily We Roll Along

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First and foremost, why has DULOG decided to round off their year with Merrily We Roll Along?

Simon Lynch (Actor, Frank): We wanted a show that had a lot for the chorus to do, as it’s the only musical on in the Assembly Rooms this term and Merrily is the perfect mix of good music, enough lead parts, and lots of for the chorus to do in terms of singing with solo lines and also everyone doubling up on parts. It also fits perfectly between the older musicals we’ve done this year [Guys and Dolls] and then [The 25th Putnam County Annual] Spelling Bee, which was very modern. Plus the fun fact is that the latest West End revival had the most five star reviews of any West End show, ever, so it’s a really strong way to end what has been a really strong year.

As Merrily We Roll Along is a musical that isn’t necessarily that well known, are you looking forward to bringing something new to Durham?

Ros Bell (Director): It’s nice that people will come with no preconceptions of how the show should be, which means we can set it how we feel it should be done. We’re not changing it drastically but, for me, my interpretation of it is that the whole play is a memory of the central character, Frank, and so it is minimalistic. The most important part of each scene are the characters and relationships, rather than costume and set; ultimately in a memory you focus on what happens and you don’t really remember what other people were wearing! That’s how we’re choosing to interpret it.

Jordan Carlton (Actor, Charley): It’s also interesting as a play because you can cast twenty year olds, or you can cast forty year olds, as they did in the West End. So that’s another element that we can do a lot with.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the rehearsal process?

Jo C: The most challenging is the music. A lot of the songs are very fast, with different people singing different lines, the key changes in there. But the music has so much depth to it, it’s like reading Shakespeare, there’s so many layers, and when you’re singing you begin to recognise the cogs in Sondheim’s brain working. It’s a pleasure to sing, even if it is difficult.

Jessica Croghan (Assistant Musical Director): There’s a scene where Charley and Frank are singing a song and so they’re trying to sing the main song but then the audience sing as if they’re talking over them, in a completely different time or key, so putting them together is difficult, but has the potential to be so effective.

How do you think the audience will respond to such an unusual, reverse chronological structure?

Jess C: It’s actually a really nice way of doing it because it is so normal to see something from the beginning and work to the end. With this show, you’d hate Frank if you watched it from the start of the story. By switching it, you grow to love him and you understand why he’s behaved the way he does. Just this morning we were blocking the last scene, and its just more poignant knowing what happens to all of them.

ML: By the end of the show, the songs are actually very happy but your heart breaks for them because you know what’s in store. And there is the odd comment here and there, the odd song lyric that does pick up on this the whole way through the play. With Merrily, it’s quite an ordinary story if told in the expected order but it’s a lot more tragic the way the script tells it.

So do you feel it is a hopeful ending? Or is it more cynical, focusing on how their dreams will not actually be achieved?

Jess C: It’s about what you sacrifice on the way to getting where you want to be. So Frank is famous but he’s not necessarily happy. It’s quite a realistic portrait of life; it’s not a ‘happy ever after.’

RB: For Frank you can definitely interpret it both ways, seeing his hopes and then where he has ended up.  It’s also a bit of a warning to the audience, reminding them what’s important in life. Jobs, work, exams, they feel like the be-all and end-all, but they actually fade very quickly. It’s the relationships that are important.  You almost wish they really were going back in time so we could stop of them from making the mistakes that they make. It’s especially poignant that we’re doing it as students, as where we are now is the ‘end’ of the show but also the beginning.

Jo C: But there’s a hope that Frank isn’t beyond redemption. This show is looking back at his memories, so he’s being introspective and thinking about his life. So there’s a possibility that at the end of his retrospection he will change.

Fill in the blank: If you loved *insert musical here*, you will love Merrily We Roll Along.

RB: You could say Sweeney Todd for the music, there are clashing chords that definitely can compare. But there are so many themes and strands that it’s difficult to compare them to one.

Jess C: There’s even a bit of Les Miserables. This morning we were telling Mary: ‘this is your Eponine moment of unrequited love.’

There are quite a few people who are cynical about musicals, what could you say about Merrily We Roll Along that would change their minds?

RB: Well, it’s as cynical as they are. It’s very clever, with fast-past, sharp and witty music. It’s not your standard story.

ML: There are no Jazz hands. No musical clichés.

Jess C:  There’s more depth to the story, so it’s not saccharine sweet, there’s so much to think about.

Any final words?

RB: For those who come, maybe watch out for the lines that are echoed and repeated throughout; they’re difficult to pick up but it’s so cleverly written that the script does weave together so nicely. It’s worth looking out for if you see the show.

Photograph: Rebecca Meltzer

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