Theatre Diva Caroline Cao’s Merrily We Roll Along Review: It Loves Its Leading Ladies

By   |   October 11, 2023   |   Entertainment

A Merrily We Roll Along review from Geek Gal/Theater Diva Caroline Cao, who loves all things Broadway.

In the Broadway revival of Merrily We Roll Along, one of Stephen Sondheim’s lesser-known gems, Lindsay Mendez plays a woman who is hopelessly in love with a dunce. This love interest, Franklin Shepherd, can be a dunce, but he’s a hot one because he’s played by Jonathan Groff.

Known to be an “Elphaba,” Mendez shines in her role as Mary Flynn, an author and theater critic who doesn’t openly voice her doubts about her career. One can argue that George Furth’s vintage script wouldn’t give an actress a lot to work with, but she manages to find constant lamentation over her professional and personal life.

When Franklin and his lyricist partner Charley Kringas (Daniel Radcliffe, knocking it out of the park) get into verbal sparring, she’s there to reunify them. The artistic bond between those two men is among the few consolations she has in life.

Technically, this is Franklin’s story, along with his besties Mary (unrequitedly in love with him) and Charley (who loves him platonically, but perhaps something more is there). But it’s also about his loved ones. Right from the start, we know his tale has a sad ending due to his poor life choices and the women in Shepard’s life steal the show.

By scene 1, a 40-year-old Franklin has broken up with his second wife Gussie, magically played by Krystal Joy Brown. The character of Gussie may have poorly aged in George Furth’s script. Still, Brown manages to flesh out her humanity as a conceited actress who sees her vanity as self-preservation after a long climb from peasantry.

Then there is his first wife, Beth, played by a wonderful Katie Rose Clarke. Clarke is also a buoyant presence in Frank’s past, before she is his betrayed spouse. In both instances, Beth and Gussie’s chronological endings are not so different, with them being left wounded animals who learn to move on from him.

Back on Broadway since its original performance in 1981, this time, previews indicate that this Merrily We Roll Along will be a box-office success. The Maria Friedman-directed off-Broadway run was already well-regarded, but its Broadway run seems to bring history full circle. Upon its initial release and flop back in ’81, it was an ambitious conceit, the musical, for crafting a story that rolls backward in time, with the trio’s story beginning in 1979 and “ending” in 1957. Although Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince’s original Broadway staging flopped hard, this is a good Merrily that sings under Friedman’s direction.

It’s tough to pick a favorite Sondheim musical, but his Merrily work is immortalized in his oeuvre for a reason. He writes showstoppers for women, elevating them from their surfaces to something more colorful. It’s the women in Franklin’s life that propel this tale.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

 

Filed Under: Entertainment
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