By Stephen Sondheim and George Firth; Directed by Dev Bondarin
Produced by Astoria Performing Arts Center
Off Off Broadway, Musical Revival
Runs through 5.23.15
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent Street, Astoria
by Sarah Moore on 5.11.15
Nicholas Park, Ally Bonino, and Jack Mosbacher in Merrily We Roll Along. Photo by Michael Dekker.
BOTTOM LINE: Astoria Performing Arts Center presents an excellent, well-sung production of Sondheim’s notorious flop, Merrily We Roll Along.
The time is finally right for Merrily We Roll Along. After notoriously flopping on Broadway, the musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth has been twice revived recently, (at New York’s Encores! and on the West End) and is currently receiving a great production at the Astoria Performing Arts Center.
On the heels of last year’s APAC musical Allegro, which also asks “how did you get to be here,” the renewed popularity of time-bending love story The Last Five Years, and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s timeline swapping If/Then, Merrily We Roll Along seems to have found its comrades in the canon.
Based on the play of the same title by Kaufman and Hart, the musical tells the story of three friends, Mary (Ally Bonino), Charley (Nicholas Park), and Frank (Jack Mosbacher), and how they became friends, and what happens when they grow up--- except it tells their story backwards, from 1976 to 1957.
In reverse, we see how the trio starts out as young and idealistic New Yorkers, just wanting to fulfill their dreams to write and compose. Frank is the composer, Charley, his lyricist and a playwright, and Mary is a novelist. Eventually, all three find success, but success and happiness never really come at the same time, as the friendships begin to fade. Jack Mosbacher gives a solid performance, sings very well, and does about as much as he can do with the blank page that is Frank Shepard. After all, to me, this story is about Frank’s friends more than it is really about Frank.
Standout performances are Nicholas Park as Charley, who gives one of the better renditions of “Franklin Shepard Inc” that I’ve ever seen, the electric LilyAnn Carlson who finally made me understand why Frank would fall for Gussie, and a heartbreakingly beautiful performance by Rachel Rhodes-Devey, as Frank’s first wife Beth, who sings a “Not a Day Goes By” to remember.
Sets by Andrea Nice and lighting by Jesse Sheldon are both clean and simple; the design is appropriate for the piece and serves the story. Well directed by Dev Bondarin, this production is efficient and easy to follow, with great work from an enthusiastic ensemble. (Anne Wechsler, Joanna Carpenter, and Jason Pintar are excellent in small roles.) While Park and Mosbacher have believable chemistry as long time friends Charley and Frank, Mary never feels quite as deep. Unfortunately, this also dilutes the production’s overall emotional impact, as you don’t really feel the pain of Mary’s unrequited love for Frank, when both Gussie and Beth outshine her.
Across the board, this production is well sung, and the cast nails the well-known numbers, like the aforementioned big numbers for Charley and Beth, as well as the idealism of “Opening Doors” and “Our Time.” “It’s a Hit,” the song that occurs on the night of the opening of Frank and Charley’s first Broadway musical, is an absolute delight to watch, as every single actor is completely committed and in the moment.
Overall, APAC has done a very nice job with Merrily We Roll Along, as they always do with their musicals. It is certainly worth a visit whether you’re a Merrily fanatic, or a curious first timer.
(Merrily We Roll Along plays at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent Street, Astoria, through May 23rd. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM, and Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM. Tickets are $18 (or $12 for students/seniors) and are available at apacny.org or by calling 888-596-1027)