Merrily We Roll Along by Steven Sondheim & George Furth. Silk Street Theatre, Barbican, London EC2Y to 10 July. 4****. William Russsell

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth.
Based on the play by George S. Kaufman & Moss Hart.
Silk Street Theatre, Guildhall School, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS to 10 July 2019.
Evening performance to 10 July at 7.30pm. Mat 5 & 8 July 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7638 8891.
Review: William Russell 2 July.

Rolling along delightfully
This Sondheim musical was a flop when first staged in 1981, but subsequently revised in 1990 it went on to success especially here with the 2012 production at the Menier Chocolate Factory directed by Maria Friedman receiving more five star reviews than any show in West End history. It transferred to the West End and was filmed and broadcast in selected cinemas in the following. It is a story about friendship told in reverse, which was possibly the problem. We meet three people, a composer, his lyricist and their would be writer friend in middle age when some have enjoyed great success, but the friendships have soured and we then go backwards to the beginning when they are young, talented, broke and hopeful for the future. This means that audiences are presented with a leading character, Franklin Shepard, who is by his forties a selfish, cynical, anything for a buck success who is hard to like, while his lyricist is a tormented, unhappy man and their woman friend, the writer now a drama critic, is a lush.
Musical audiences really like people they can like. The score is, however, terrific, the final year student cast rise to the challenges admirably, although they have a little problem about going back in time. They are patently young right from the start. Martin Connor has directed it with great style aided by simple but beautifully designed sets by Adam Wiltshire, and choreographer Ewan Jones has also come up with some nice moves to keep things flowing along. But good although the three leads are this is very much an ensemble production and the ensemble is very good indeed.
Oli Higginson as Franklin manages the tricky task of changing from a rotter in middle age to a nice guy as a broke composer fresh from military service, Joseph Potter as Charley Kringas, his lyricist, just gets better and better as the time rolls back, and Julia Randall as the writer turned drama critic manages to play a cynical drunk with great elan and is also a convincing starry eyed, hopelessly in love with Franklin. There is a really good band in the pit and everyone gets a moment centre stage, as they should in this sort of showcase production and the really good band in the pit does full justice to the score.
It is as smart, stylish, as well performed as anything the West End can offer and director Connor has added another fine show to the list of musicals he has directed here. Guildhall final year musicals are invariably rather special and this year’s offering is up there with some of the glories of the past. It leaves the audience with that feeling of regret for how things may not have turned out as hoped, and yet also enough reassurance that how things did turn out is maybe better than it seemed. In other words this is a musical with something to say worth saying, a score worth singing and as always with Sondheim words worth listening to. You can hear them too, which is not always the case in the commercial world of musicals.
Franklin Shephard: Oli Higginson.
Charley Kringas: Joseph Potter.
Mary Flyn: Julia Randall.
Gussie Carnegie: Isabella Brownson.
Joe Josephoson: Nick Apostolina.
Beth Spencer: Erica Nicole Rothman.
Meg Kincaid: Lydia Fleming.
K.T. : Laurel Waghorn.
Scotty: Elena Faverio.
Tyler: Wyatt Martin.
Terry: Brandon Ashford.
Jerome: Jordan Angell.
Bunker: Harvey Cole.
Ru: Uri Levy.
Dory/ Mrs Spenser: Chloe Caemmerer.
Chuck/ Photographer: Matthew Nikitow.
Joanne: Mirren Mack.
Pete: Dominic Gilday.
Susie/ Jeannie/ TV newscaster: Naomi Preston-Low.
Hank: Declan Baxter.
Slim/ TV newscaster: Kalungi Ssebandeke.
Frank Jr: Peter Lynne.

Director: Martin Connor.
Musical Director: Steven Edis.
Choreographer: Ewan Jones.
Designer: Adam Wiltshire.
Lighting Designer: James Smith.
Sound Designer: Charlie Smith.
Image: Library of Congress.

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