When things go wrong and nothing turns out as you expect how do you have a happy ending? Well, Stephen Sondheim solves that dilemma by reversing his story in this musical dating back to 1981. The show starts as we meet the three main characters a composer, a lyricist and a writer, all of whom are unhappy or not on speaking terms. And for the next couple of hours we see how they got to ‘here’ in 1980 from ‘there’ in 1957. As the lead character is the composer we must assume that Sondheim is writing from experience both bitter and sweet.
So we go from the hard-bitten and cynical to the hopeful and expectant. We may not be in the same league as Sondheim’s trio but we have all been young with dreams looking forward to what might be, only a little later to find our ambitions in the dust. It is this we can relate to when watching the show and its characters.
Merrily has been through many re-writes and failed productions that prove it is not easy to get right and this production at Theatr Clwyd doesn’t entirely succeed despite the hard working and talented cast. The production cannot decide whether it is a big Broadway musical or a chamber piece so its potency comes and goes. The ugly setting resembling a football arena and the huge stage area requires a lot of filling which all too often means much running around or awkward dance routines. Because of all this noise and frantic action the show takes a while to settle down but in the more intimate scenes it does succeed in being clever, funny and touching.
Simon Thomas makes a great Franklin. He charts well the progression of the character and has good stage presence. As Charley, Matt Cross is funny, quirky and likeable as the more stable of the two. Rebecca Lock has tremendous warmth and personality and is truly touching in her unrequited love for Franklin and Lucy Williamson conveys unlimited layers of bitchiness as the Broadway star.
The supporting cast double and treble parts with skill and it is amazing to see the energy on display but despite all their efforts the end result is a production that is not sharp and funny enough or truly touching at its conclusion.