Presented by F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Music direction by Steven Bergman
Directed by Joey DeMita
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Watertown, MA) Merrily We Roll Along is Company meets Kiss Me Kate. This musical is what happens when Sondheim runs out of ideas and starts throwing what appear to be events based on an autobiographical story onto the stage. There’s singing, dancing and several broken hearts. This is a belty show with many great solos for singers. Mainly there’s a narcissist with his head so far up his own ass that he can’t tell when enough is finally enough. It’s also an incomplete mess that F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Co. did a pretty great job of making entertaining.
Franklin Shepard (Jared Walsh looking like Neil Patrick Harris playing a suited-down Slim Shady) ponders how he’s become a self-centered, brown-nosing producer in Hollywood. He has no idea how he sold his artistic integrity in order to make a career for himself shilling music and movies with no social value. The musical’s plot travels backwards twenty years in increments to a time when Frank’s innocence and shame were intact. Along the way we meet stalwart friends and collaborators Mary Flynn (Andrea Giangreco) and Charlie Kringas (Adam Schuler), Frank’s first wife Beth Spencer (Katie Preisig), and second wife Gussie Carnegie (Vanessa Calantropo). George Furth and Sondheim also introduce us to a roster of Yes Men who move the plot forward. The music is OK. The book is inconsistent.
The music direction by Bergman is near flawless. The diction of the ensemble is crisp, their entrances solid. The orchestra and the cast work together like two wholes rather than individuals in small crowds. Listening to the performance, one might think that they were all standing still, taking cues rather than performing their choreography with their eyes off the conductor.
For all their great diction and timing, the cast is stiff. Their discomfort is an unfortunate distraction and has little to do with DeMita’s direction. They perform well but they look uptight in their intensely lapelled costumes.
Giangreco is the glue that holds the trio of she, Walsh and Schuler together. She gives a sharp, heady performance as the love embittered Mary. While Walsh carries the show and Schuler voices reason and decency, Giangreco is the emotional barometer. Her ups and downs reveal the ugly truths behind the false facade of celebrity.
Conversely, Calantropo is a persistent reminder of the prices we pay for “happiness.” Her icy, glamorous Gussie can’t afford emotional attachment. Calantropo is so realistic as Gussie that it’s difficult to tell if she’s acting or not. She skims a fine line between acting and being. The same sentiment can be applied to Schuler and Ben Sharton as Joe Josephson.
Connor Thomas Upton is adorable as Frank, Jr. He doesn’t have many lines or solos but was super cute no matter what he did.
F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Co. has been presenting fringe theatre for 13 years. Merrily We Roll Along is it’s last show. It would be too easy to read into the selection for their final production. Instead, I’m going to say that it’s a shame that they’re stopping at all. Bravi tutti for an excellent run! Thank you for creating opportunities for artists and good theatre in Boston. I hope life sends you all many brilliant successes and the barest of minimums of setbacks (because life). We’ll miss you.