Merrily We Roll Along
Words and music by Stephen Sondheim
Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
First of all I would like to congratulate the whole cast for what was a stunning team performance.
This is not an easy piece. It demands a high degree of musicality combined with finely tuned stage craft and this was demonstrated all through the performance.
It is also refreshing to see something from the States that is designed for an adult audience. As an audience we are tried and tested on various levels in this show. For one thing, the story runs backwards, which is an interesting device which works well.
For those who don't know the book it's a story of showbiz folk, the central characters being the two man team of Charlie and Frank who write musicals. The story begins with relationships being strained to the limits of endurance and as the years roll back we see the layers of showbiz veneer being slowly stripped away until we are left at the end with skilled, visionary people who are looking forward to living their creative lives. This ending (beginning) has an interesting impact on the audience for as we watch the enthusiastic group looking forward to their lives we are already fully aware of what is to become of them .and that brings a very hard lump to the throat. For those of us with a few years under our belts it's a story that rings so truthfully .those memories of dreams we all had long ago.
Set against an impressive stark, white, expansive set we see how the pressures of the theatre work to distort the personalities who work for success at the expense of their own true happiness. It's all about the hard world of living the American Dream, of giving the world a musical hit and enjoying the fleeting fame that goes with it, whilst in the background the real world is suffering under the guidance of weak politicians. The sub text of the real world was cleverly shown by projected images of American icons which were synchronised expertly with the music.
Sondheim's music is always a challenge. There are rhythms and counter rhythms and unexpected phrasing which place great demands on principals and chorus and it's music that has to be attacked bravely otherwise it would lack impact. Musically this performance was truly outstanding and much praise must go to the Musical Director, John O'Hara for his efforts in this respect.
I hesitate to pick any one out for special praise for their performance. I can say that, in my opinion, there was not one weak performance from this excellent group.
I did enjoy the performances of Caryl Morgan as Mary, Mark Sullivan as Franklin Sheppard and Robert Vernon as Charley Kringas. In particular I thought Siobhan McMillan played a magnificent Beth.
The direction by Chris Monks was always tight and beautifully controlled. He must be very pleased with the result. We certainly were.
The production ends tomorrow evening which is a shame. A short tour of the Principality would have been welcomed.
Reviewer: Tony Layton