Review by James Mukheibir
Hayes Theatre was alight with excitement as the audience gathered for what, for most, would be their first live theatre experience in many months. The buzz only increased as we entered the theatre space, and cheers broke out as the lights dimmed. We were in for a treat and ready to savour every moment of it.
Merrily We Roll Along, presented by Hayes Theatre Co, is a touching, vibrant and wonderfully fun production of Sondheim’s beloved musical. It shines with the energy of the talented casts’ performances and whisks us away into a toe-tapping and thought-provoking exploration of the torrid relationship between success and artistic integrity. Told in reverse, we step through time and space to experience milestones in the lives of the increasingly starry-eyed and naïve characters in a heartbreaking journey of lost loyalty and all-consuming ambition.
It is brought to life by the fantastic performances across the ensemble, with every member delivering with poise, energy and comic flair. The show was at its best when it embraced the bombastic musical numbers and colourful troupe of personalities, filling the intimate theatre with energy and life that was lapped up by the spectacle-starved audience. Director Dean Bryant and his cast must be commended for balancing these spirited displays with the contrasting quieter, more poignant moments that stand as a reminder of the tragedy of Franklin Shepard.
Andrew Coshan provides a stable and animated performance as the focal character Franklin, while the orbiting characters provide much of the colour in the tale of Franklin’s quest for fame. Georgina Hobson was a crowd favourite as Gussie Carnegie and delivered an absolute powerhouse of a solo song to welcome the audience back in from intermission. Aaron Tsindos, Tairne Sue Yek and Vidya Makan shone with versatility, charisma and impressive vocals that made every scene pop with life.
Special mention must go to Ainsley Melham, who delivers a sparkling performance as Charley Kringer, a perfect portrayal of a character struggling as they are being torn between their love for a friend and their art. Perhaps the most complete performance of the show, Melham blew the roof off the theatre with the show-stopping song Franklin Shepard Inc. that had the audience cheering for over a minute.
Under the careful guidance of musical director Andrew Worboys, Merrily We Roll Along will certainly give every audience member something to hum. The five-piece band gave a stellar performance, especially considering the original show is scored for an orchestra of thirteen. They gave every scene the pomp and verve to elevate this relatively small production and give it a real punch. Worboys’ brief cameo was a wonderful addition and the audience made sure to recognise his foray into the bright lights of centre stage with plenty of applause.
The set by Jeremy Allen was charmingly simple, its versatility transporting us through years and spaces with ease. The use of AV, designed by Dave Bergman, was an incredibly successful experiment. In some moments, it was able to give an intimate look into the eyes of a character, as if in a mirror, and in others it created the scale of a Broadway chorus in the small space. The camera work was slick and added humour and character with a new perspective on scenes playing out. The increasing use of live AV in theatre is an interesting trend and Merrily We Roll Along uses it tastefully and to great effect, and I commend them for bravely innovating and experimenting especially considering the disruptions to their theatre-making process.
Theatre often stands as a reminder of our true values and the pitfalls of the human condition and this is true of Merrily We Roll Along. Success cannot replace genuine friendship, loyalty is more valuable than any contract, and those we surround ourselves with are ultimately the truest reflection of who we are. These themes have a further resonance as we all have been so starved of human contact, and importance of our family and true friends has perhaps never been so pertinent.
Merrily We Roll Along deserves to be seen and rewarded for the tenacity and strength of the cast and crew in the face of utmost adversity, and for doing such a fabulous job on this beloved musical. So, do yourself a favour and get your friends, family or neighbours together for a wonderful night at Hayes Theatre and experience the magic of live theatre again.