Merrily We Roll Along at the Wallis

About a week ago I realized that, hey, I don’t necessarily need someone to go to a show with me. Obviously it’s nice to share a moment with someone you know, but when you’re sitting in a theatre, you’re silent and staring at the same thing as the other (insert number of seats in any given theatre) people in that room. After I came to this realization, I went onto GoldStar, bought tickets to see Merrily We Roll Along, and drove myself to Beverly Hills.
What I knew about this show going in is the following:
  • Written by Stephen Sondheim
  • Opened and closed in two weeks
  • Has a reputation of never being properly staged
  • Jason Alexander was in the OBC (yes, I grew up with Seinfeld on every day in my house)
  • Opening Doors  
Naturally, I was hopeful about this show. I always am. I never want a show to do bad or be bad because thats just bad karma. Also, I had the great fortune of seeing Deaf West’s Spring Awakening last summer at the Wallis and absolutely adored Michael Arden’s work with that show. When I heard that he was going to be putting Merrily up at the Wallis I knew I had to see it and see for myself if the show really is impossible to stage.
Because I was by myself, I found myself less worried. Whenever I go to a show with my parents or with a friend that is not necessarily a theatre-goer, I find myself worried that they are not having a good time or understanding the show, making the connection I have to it less intense. But when I sat myself between a couple to my right and a father and son to my left, and the lights went down, I was able to intently focus all of my attention on the action on the stage. Instantly I was swept up in the party thrown in Frank’s honor and felt a part of it all, though that may have been helped in part by the 5th row seats (thank you GoldStar).
Now, my thoughts on the actual show vary. Am I supposed to like Frank? He seems so self involved. He says he wants one thing but goes for another, but that could have to do with the fact that in that first scene he says the one mistake he made over and over was saying yes when he meant to say no. Charlie is the only successful one. He goes after what he wants, eventually winning a Pulitzer for the work he wants to do. He is happily married with a wife and kids and with a successful career. Mary is sadly unsuccessful. She’s developed a drinking problem and is still in love with Frank no matter how many wives he cheats on. She wrote one book that seems to have been very successful but the dissolution of the Mary/Frank/Charlie friendship seems to take a massive toll on her professional life. However, there is some sort of silver lining in the fact that while madly in love with Frank, she never ends up with him. If she had, chances are that he would have cheated on her just as he had Beth and Gussie. 
I think the fact that the show works backwards is such an interesting take. At first I didn’t understand it, but when we hit the finale and you see the excitement these characters have for the future and their potential the point is really hammered in. That basically devastated me, broke my heart, and sent tears down my cheeks. 
These kids have so much hope and knowing how it all ends is heartbreakingly, beautifully devastating. They want to make a difference in the world, create works that matter, and do it all together. I suppose this show shows that you can get what you want, but it all comes with consequences and sacrifices, and sometimes those come in the form of friendships falling apart in the pursuit of those dreams. 
While this is the only production I have seen, I really enjoyed a lot of what could only be personal Arden touches. The set is one that exposes backstage. You can see vanities and clothing racks. I took this to be because the show is about friends and writing for Broadway, this element adds to the behind-the-scenes feel. You never see the musical, but you see what goes into it. 
The transitions are just as important to the show as the scenes themselves. With the three dancers in the transitions chasing dreams, encapsulating the hopes and dreams that Mary, Charlie, and Frank had when they were practically children adds so much to the storytelling. When, during the finale, each of these dancers takes the place of these characters on the rooftop and they talk about what a time it is to be alive, the floodgates burst open. I really enjoyed this show. A lot. More than a lot. I loved this show. 
I didn’t know I could love Wayne Brady more as a performer than I already did, but watching him sing Franklin Shepard Inc. was just pure joy. He is such a charismatic performer with so much depth. We all know he’s great at comedy, but the dramatics this show calls for at times was something I did not expect. Also, Donna Vivino, who just might have the best No Good Deed anyone has ever illegally recorded, was phenomenal. She plays Mary with such hope and sadness and love and I was so drawn into her performance. Aaron Lazar did such a wonderful job with Frank that while he is literally the worst, you are still hoping the best for him. 
I just have so many thoughts and feelings about this show, new opinions come creeping into my brain each time I think about it. I truly loved this show so much that I saw it twice in three days, the second time was with a friend who also loves Michael Arden’s work. To make a bold claim, I think Merrily We Roll Along may just be my favorite musical. 
 
Stray Thoughts:
  • I believe Sondheim created rap
  • I actually found the song “Its a Hit” to be funny because of how much of a hit this show originally was not
  • Kevin McHale and Darren Criss were at the first performance I was at
  • Aaron Lazar forgot the line “I saw My Fair Lady” and stammered it out, the second time
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