thecompany - young ones to watch
22 August 2009 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Merrily We Roll Along, with book by George Firth, is not Stephen Sondheim’s best work. The ambitious scale of the show allows insufficient time to examine its themes in depth so that, at times, it becomes almost as superficial as the culture that it criticises. The musical shows the artistic and personal sacrifices made by Franklyn Shepard as ambition prompts him to turn from his love of composing to more profitable film production. The compromises required by his pursuit of success cause him to reject his ideals and so lose his family and friends, Charley Kringas and Mary Flynn. Although, at times, way too nostalgic, the script is witty and the individual songs are excellent. As the story is told in flashback over decades it is a shame that the music popular in the periods that it covers is not represented in the score. The vocals delivery by the young cast is excellent. Jessamy Stoddart as Beth wrings all the emotion possible out of the ballad "Not a Day Goes By." Jasmine Gur (Gussie) brings a welcome bluesy edge to "Opening" and Stewart Clarke delivers a truly heartfelt version of "Good Thing Going." thecompany is made up of young people aged 13 to 23. One assumes that the show is put together on a strict budget, yet director Caroline Leslie’s polished production looks like it cost a fortune. Ellen Stewart’s striking black and white stage set is reflected in the elegant costumes that she also designed. The clear and crisp choreography of Lee Crowley turns the cast into a dramatic chorus as they weave around each other. A ten-piece band, including musical director Dan Swana who also plays the on-stage piano numbers, performs the score live. This year, Manchester has seen some excellent acting by young performers and thecompany continues this welcome trend. Although there are occasions when voice projection and accents slip, the performances overall are terrific. The structure of the show challenges the ability of the cast. It works backwards illustrating the choices that alienated the three friends. Rather than show the evolution of their characters, the actors have to deconstruct them and strip off various traits as the show progresses. It is fascinating to watch Melissa Taylor remove the internal defences constructed by Mary Flynn to show her unrequited love for Franklyn. Stewart Clarke, as the socially-aware Charley Kringas, lets us see how the character’s perceptive wit comes from his sense of betrayal at his friend’s behaviour. The quietly anguished performance of Alex Knox makes clear that Franklyn shares the disappointment of his friends at how he has developed. The quality of the company’s work is so high that it makes you wonder why other theatre groups cannot achieve similar standards. It also makes you feel young, or wish that you were! -Dave Cunningham Related Content
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