By Amy Price
First and foremost this is a show worth watching. It has a clever design, excellent staging, a winning chorus, and a capable orchestra. Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along is an immensely challenging piece of musical theatre and it is testimony to DULOG’s successes this year that they have felt confident enough to take it on.
In terms of performance, special mention goes to Lucy Rowlanes with her perfect portrayal of the simpering star, Gussie Carnegie. Rowlanes expertly demonstrated the progression of her character through the unusual reverse-chronology of the plot, starting as the vitriolic betrayed wife, becoming the excessive attention seeker, before subtly retreating to her more reserved “younger” self. Kudos also goes to Isabelle Horler with her beautiful interpretation of Beth; her strong singing voice and acting skills coming together to show both the hopefulness and heartbreak her character experiences.
Choreographer Jenifer Bullock must be commended for her work, as the dancing was always appropriate and smoothly executed, suiting both the mood and stage-space. The costumes were also well done, with the suave Frank Shepard (performed by the adept Simon Lynch) morphing into his less-successful self by changing from a tuxedo to attire more suitable for a young student.
Unusually, the second act of this show was actually much stronger than the beginning. This was slightly unfortunate as the beginning of this musical demands an especially confident opening, as it the introductory number that actually serves as the ending of the story we are watching. Musical queues needed to be slicker and volume levels needed adjusting, as the orchestra overpowered most of the lines in the first song. This meant the very foundations of the characters and plot were shaky as the audience were left playing catch-up.
It would perhaps also be helpful if Frank’s character were a little less likeable to justify the responses he receives from Charley and Mary. On this note, Jordan Carlton’s (Charley) execution of the difficult musical number at the beginning of the show ‘Franklin Shepard Inc.’ was very impressive; his character’s hatred for Frank made the number engaging and funny. Indeed, it was a shame that the audience on the first night did not always outwardly respond to the humour of some really entertaining moments.
Overall, this production has a lot of potential and once the wrinkles are ironed out, it will easily uphold DULOG’s reputation for outstanding theatre, and stand the company in good stead to roll into next year.
Photograph: Rebecca Meltzer