Quote of the Day: We chose to launch our 25th anniversary season with “Merrily We Roll Along” because it is about a group of theater-makers and the pivotal choices they make in their lives. Peter Rothstein, Founding Artistic Director of Theater Latte’ Da, and director of Merrily We Roll Along, playing through Oct. 30, 2022.
Merrily We Roll Along, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth, and Orchestrations by Johnathan Tunick starts at the end and winds us backwards to the beginning of when Frank sets out to make theater with his friend Charley and meets Mary, and others, along the way. It’s like when you hit a milestone in life and reflect back on “How did I get here?” Some memories are good. Others are bittersweet. You might have some regrets over choices you made, or didn’t make, what was in your power, and things that happened to you that you did not control. It’s interesting to note that our main character, Franklin Shepard (Reese Britts ) is alone on stage, sitting at his piano, at both the beginning and the end of this story. It’s a musical about making a life in the arts, the connections and the discord, the lucky breaks, and the brutal competition.
When Reese Britts takes on a roll, he’s all in. He was stunning in Jelly’s Last Jam, and he’s equally vibrant as Frank in Merrily We Roll Along. You feel his character’s emotions with him, as he celebrates his success, surrounds himself with other hopeful and talented people, falls in love, strays, works with a partner, then leaves him in the dust, and ignores the woman who was always by his side. One of my favorite scenes is during the number Franklin Shepard, Inc. where his partner Charley (Dylan Frederick) sings of how their partnership was sometimes like a beautiful song, then the melodies and harmonies no longer worked. They clashed. Frank took the glory, and Charley took the fall. Money became the focus at the cost of making authentic art. I can still picture Dylan using his hands to play air piano, his facial expressions of frustration and disappointment, and the sadness both Frank and Charley feel as their partnership dissolves.
Becca Hart gets to show her range as an actor as she portrays Mary, the third leg to the friendship stool. She’s a writer and a dreamer, like Charley and Frank. She finds some success on her own when she gets a book published, but always has time for her friends. She’s in love with Frank, but he doesn’t see it, or chooses not to. He falls for a singer, Beth (Britta Ollmann), and marries her. I felt all the emotions for Mary, Beth, and Frank during the bittersweet love song, Not a Day Goes By, done in both the first and second acts with different affects. The women do a beautiful job on the vocals.
Vie Boheme is stunning as Gussie, a Broadway star who takes a shine towards Frank, which is both his unraveling and vehicle to success. She gives the character both grit and moxie, a woman who knows what she wants, and takes it.
The rest of the ensemble (Ronnie Allen, Mathias Brinda as young Frank, Camryn Buelow, Charlie Clark, Kim Kivens, Ryan London Levin, and Tod Petersen) play a variety of characters including reporters, photographers, ministers, musicians, groupies and family. They have some wonderful numbers as “The Blob” and coming in periodically to sing the phrases of the title song “Merrily” to show us how time is moving backwards, and what year it is in the lives of our main characters. This is a show about making a show and the backstage life, so the set reflects this (design by director Peter Rothstein) with an open plan, raw theater walls, a stage and wings. The actors exit, but often remain in the wings, where we see them subtly change costume, observe what’s happening, or move props and set pieces. You have to be on your toes to be in this production!
And, just behind the row of coats at the back of the stage, we get glimpses of the fabulous orchestra, led by Jason Hansen. Sondheim’s music is not easy, but this group makes it seamlessly. I don’t know how the singers know when to come in sometimes. Sondheim is not known for his tuneful melodies. I hear so much dissonance in the sound and lyrics, and a beat that is sometimes strong, and other times disjointed. Hansen is masterful at keeping it all together and bringing out the important phrasing. All the singers are topnotch!
Darling costumes by Rich Hamson, Brilliant Choreography by Renee Guittar, Dynamic Lighting and Sound design by Grant E. Merges and Eric Gonzalez. The entire cast and crew do a tremendous job with this production. Peter Rothstein directs an absolutely stunning cast who get to the heart of this story about making art. You can see Merrily We Roll Along at Theater Latte’ Da through Oct. 30, 2022. You don’t want to miss out on seeing this one!
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Write about a time when you were at a crossroads. What were your choices? Would you have done things differently knowing what you know now?