An explosive musical introduction from the pit kicked off a tremendous melodic platform upon which the entire show will build, as the curtain rises to reveal a gathering crowd of colourfully clad part-goers, with a distinctly 70s flavour.
Goya Theatre, an Oxford University student company, has brought Merrily We Roll Along, Steven Sondheim and George Furth’s rarely-performed musical, to the Oxford Playhouse all week, and it’s highly enjoyable.
“The main focus of the show is the tunes, and Sondheim’s musical is full of catchy, entertaining numbers, backed up by terrific direction And A strong cast”
A story told in reverse, Merrily We Roll Along, is a poignant tale of ambition, friendship, success and failure, refracted through the prism of time.
It depicts Frank (played by the aptly cast Emilio Campa), a once-talented composer of Broadway musicals, who has abandoned his songwriting in favour of becoming a producer of Hollywood films, with all the societal baubles that affords. He loses his oldest friendships along the way — those of Charley, his one-time musical collaborator, and Mary (the talented Maddy Page), whose unrequited admiration for Frank, coupled with alcoholism, have undone her early writing success.
Beginning in 1976, and winding back to 1957, the show really gets going in ’73 when we discover the reason for the estrangement between Frank and Charley. Page’s delivery of Like it Was is first class, and Joe Winter’s Charley pulls off a spectacular performance of Franklin Shepard Inc.— a hilarious and riotous send-up of the newly avaricious Frank.
With some impressive vocal performances, the three lead females (Page, Andrusier and Albery) develop into increasingly sympathetic characters as we follow their stories backwards, offering some interesting meditations on the nature of friendship and the corrosive impact of time, ambition and ‘life’, which conspire to stretch the threads to breaking point.
The main focus of the show though, is of course the tunes, and Sondheim’s musical is full of catchy, entertaining numbers, backed up here by terrific direction, with an eye-catching interpretation tightly performed by the strong cast.
A great final piece — The Hills of Tomorrow — brings the show to its bittersweet end (by then, we know how it really ‘ends’) with a rousing crescendo, and our audience lapped it up. Despite the story’s poignancy, the reverse structure means you leave with a spring in your step, but with the underlying reminder that what we prioritise in life may well come back to bite us.
All in all, this production of Merrily packs a solid punch — a colourful, rowdy, and entertaining show, with some great performances and wonderful musical support.
Merrily We Roll Along runs at The Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com