Applause! Musicals Society

Merrily We Roll Along Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Book by George Furth

Dates and Venue 1-3 Oct 2009 | H R MacMillan Space Centre, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

With a new venue, Applause! Musicals Society opened its season with this little known play of Sondheim. Artistic Director Scott Ashton Swan gave a little background of the play, stating that this was a flop in Broadway because the audience was confused with the structure of the musical, as it begins in 1976 and goes backward to 1957. Also responsible for the unsuccessful run was that a new composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, entered the picture with such hits as Cats, thus, overshadowing this musical.

But Director Jennifer Suratos did a good job un-confusing the audience by consantly reminding the viewers through flip cards held by the singers showing dates, as they sang, as well as slides flashed on the screen reflecting both dates and events of the oncoming scenes. We were able to follow the sequence of events as the storyline moves backwards in time through 20 years depicting the career and personal struggles of a musical composer.

Applause uses only a piano played by musical director Angus Kellett to accompany the singers who hold their books in their hands. Based on an original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the musical explores how people’s futures and entire lives can be changed in an instant due to the decisions they make. Through small vignettes, time rewinds from 1976 to 1957, to where it all began in the lives of three friends- composer Franklin Shepard (Nick Fontaine), his collaborator- lyricist Charley Kringas (Blake William Turner), and novelist Mary Flynn (Keri Smith). Surprisingly, I found the musical interesting, and I think it was just bad timing that it was shown in Broadway when Andrew Lloyd Weber entered the musical scene.

The singers were fabulous. Fontaine and Turner carry the show well; Smith has a wonderful voice and Sabrina Prada as Gussie was full of energy. The others delivered convincingly. I enjoyed Jaclyn Rae's renditiion of "Not A Day Goes By", and the Ensemble's blocking and singing the transition songs were well-executed.

Steven Sondheim will be coming to Vancouver's Vogue Theatre on October 27 at 7.30 pm to talk about his life in musical theatre and conduct an onstage conversation with the audience. This is a once-in-a-lifetime affair and Sondheim fans will surely flock to hear and talk to him.

Applause's next production is Sondheim's chamber musical, Passion, which will be performed at the same venue, the MacMillan Space Centre stage, November 19-21.

© 2009 Ed Farolan