Saturday February 24th 2018

“Merrily We Roll Along”

Highly Recommended ***** Part of the magic of Porchlight Music Theatre is that their Artistic Director, Michael Weber, loves doing the works of Stephen Sondheim, and I enjoy every word that amazing wordsmith has written (as well as any music created by him). Weber understands the composer and brings that to the stage with each production he either stages or is otherwise involved in. While many theater audiences know Sondheim, there are the little produced musicals, from his early years that have slipped by many. Weber and Porchlight are re-visiting them, either as full productions or as one of their mini “Re-visit” productions.

The current production, “Merrily We Roll Along”  is based on the play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart of 1934 (this will be presented on 2/21 at 7:30-see www.PorchlightMusicTheatre.org). Inspired by the story of the original, Sondheim  did the music and lyrics and had George Furth write the book to tell the story of three incredibly close friends and their relationship in both business and friendship over 30 years. What is incredible about this story-telling adventure is that it is told “backwards”. Yes, it starts off in the present with our Hero, Franklin Shephard ( incredible performance by Jim DeSelm), a composer falling ill. We the go back in time to the 1980’s, 1970’s and even the 1960’s as we watch him meet his wife ( first wife) Beth (the adorable Aja Wiltshire, who brings the house down with her rendition of “Not A Day Goes By”) and learn about his two best friends, Mary Flynn ( deftly handled by Neala Barron) a writer and his lyricist Charley Kringas ( another top-notch character by Chicago favorite Matt Crowle). There is some powerful talent in this production!

Other sterling performances are by  Keely Vasquez as the  Broadway star, Gussie Carnegie and David Fiorello as her husband Joe Josephson and then one of the strongest ensemble’s I have seen of late: Kyrie Anderson, Larry Baldacci, Katherine Condit, Christopher Davis, Andres Enriquez, Cisco Lopez, Bernell Lassai III, Michelle Jasso, Frederick Harris, Alana Lovely, Liz Norton, Khaki Pixley, Jonathan Stombres and as Frank Junior (rotating- Zachary Scott Fewkes and Asher Schenk). great talent!

The story is filled with highs and lows in the lives of these characters. Remember it starts with today, or one might say adulthood and travels back to when they were just starting their lives. We watch them plan for the future (only to already know the outcome) and allows the main characters to look back in time at just what took place. We also get a glimpse into the outcomes of their dreams and desires, know the results beforehand. In other words, looking back at the life one led, from the vantage point of already having lived it. The play is very emotional and Weber, who truly understands Sondheim gets it perfectly! I would love to see this production extended and maybe even moved to other venues so that more of Chicago can bear witness to one of Sondheim’s finest, despite having the shortest run on Broadway  (16 performances). This version was back on Broadway  in 1994 and did far better- you are seeing the best of the best!

Much of the music is memorable and if you own albums (aka CD’s) by Bernadette Peters and/or Mandy Patinkin, you probably know some of these: “Merrily We Roll Along”, “It’s A Hit”, “Good Thing Going”, “Old Friends”, “Like It Was” and the adorable number “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” ( a 60’s song referring to the Kennedy’s and politics).

As a side note. This was NOT the opening night, as I had some family matters, so being into the run, often, the actors have become more familiar with the music and more comfortable with their characters, which makes for an even stronger production. On the tech side, tonight (by the way, the threat of heavy snow did not keep the audience away-almost a full house on a snowy, cold Thursday night in February) one of the giant doors was loose and when they moved a piano through the opening, the door came off its hinges and fell. Christopher Davis, one of the ensemble members quickly went to the door, almost dancing with it and swept it off the stage. Quickly and without any action stopping. That , my friends, is the beauty of live theater!

The costumes (Bill Morey), lighting (Denise Karczewski), sound (Robert Hornbostel) and props (Andrew Ashely Hatcher) are all perfect and despite the door situation, I must say that Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault did a great design on the set using the smaller and very intimate stage of The Ruth Page Center For The Arts to its best advantage and the projections by Anthony Churchill were sheer perfection. The musicians conducted by Aaron Benham were terrific filling the venue with the sounds of what might have been a full orchestra ( only six musicians plus Benham on piano).

“Merrily We Roll Along” will continue thru March 11th at the Ruth Page Center For The Arts located at 1016 N. Dearborn Street with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7:30 p.m. (except on March 8th)

Fridays  8 p.m.

Saturdays  4 and 8 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m.  (3/4 and 3/11) and 6 p.m.(  2/18 and  2/25)

Thursday 3/8  1:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $33- $60 and can be reserved by calling the box office 773-777-9884 or online at www.PorchlightMusicTheatre.org

Valet parking at $15 is available

 

SPECIAL EVENT  2/13 at 7:30 p.m. see the film “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” telling the story of the film and the original call 773-777-9884 or send an e-mail mailto:BoxOffice@PorchlightMusicTheatre.orgNO CHARGE but limited seating

Wednesday, 2/21 7:30 p.m. see a staged reading of the original non-musical play by Hart and Kaufman  $20

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Merrily We Roll Along”

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