Review Round-up: Praise for Merrily's West End transfer
Stephen Sondheim's musical, which travels backwards in time through three decades following the lives of three friends, stars Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley. Directed by Maria Friedman, it features songs including "Not a Day Goes By", "Our Time" and "Old Friends".
It runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 27 July 2013.
…Friedman’s production, with smart designs by Soutra Gilmour and beautiful lighting by the old maestro David Hersey, has definitely improved and ironed out a few bumps… The terrific Menier cast… is mercifully intact... This is a musical of city lights and private pain, of setting out and taking stock, of making friends and making mistakes, and is as personal and revealing a Sondheim score as any since Company. Friedman’s ensemble is precisely drilled by choreographer Tim Jackson, but never at the expense of deft contributions in support from Julie Jupp, Zizi Strallen and Glyn Kerslake. The show's an unalloyed treat and a serious pleasure from start to finish.
…Friedman's twin strokes of genius are her spot-on casting (even the minor roles are pitch perfect) and framing the show as if it's unfolding inside the head of Franklin… Jenna Russell is heartbreaking as Mary… Damian Humbley is wryly funny as playwright Charley, who provides the play's moral centre. Best of all is the low-key charisma of Mark Umbers, who succeeds in making Franklin seem less of jerk and more a man who falls prey to his weakness for praise and success… There are problems that Friedman can't solve. Sondheim's score always dazzles, whereas Furth's book often preaches… But it's a thrilling evening of musical theatre and essential viewing for anyone who has ever looked at their life and wondered: "How did I get here?"
…It is, make no mistake, one of the great musical productions of this or any other era… The leading trio (Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley) give acting and singing performances that are now extraordinarily rich in texture, subtext and truthfulness through every beat of the drama… The chorus establish period and guide us though the reverse storyline with terrifically droll/baleful attack and a hard-etched caricature-precision and the ace band do electric justice to a mordant and aching score in which the main song, in keeping with the chronology, is first heard as a wispy quotation from a real-life Frank Sinatra cover version and then gradually exfoliates from reprise to full-bodied version to honky-tonk early sketches. The show is a rare combination of the thoughtful and the thrilling. Go.
…Happily, Stephen Sondheim's bracingly sophisticated but easily accessible work looks comfortably at home in this bigger space. The most distinctive feature of this 1981 piece is its backwards chronology… There’s an easy chemistry between Umbers (a particularly stylish performer), Humbley and Russell, the last of whom deploys heartiness to mask her unrequited love for Frank. Josefina Gabrielle provides a decisive through-line as a ruthless Broadway actress. Strongly sung and confidently acted by leads and ensemble alike, it’s a directorial debut of some distinction from actress Maria Friedman, herself an accomplished performer of Sondheim. Amid the froth and the blockbusters, an intelligent musical like this is greatly welcome in the West End.
…For all its sadness and sourness, this is often a “merry” experience - hugely witty, tunefully inventive and brightly entertaining… If the engine is top-of-the-range, the 17-strong company are the equivalent of liquid engineering. Whether working in harmony, ingenious collective discord or individually, there isn’t a weak link. Mark Umbers’s handsome Franklin glows with get-ahead energy but radiates powerful levels of angst behind the assurance. Damian Humbley is terrific as his shambling, stubbornly anti-commercial lyricist pal Charley while Jenna Russell breaks your heart as the writer Mary, turned alcoholic and sardonic with unrequited love and unfulfilled promise. I’m sorry Book of Mormon: good as you are you don’t come close to genius of this calibre.