Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along

Date 11th November 2016
Society Battle Amateur Theatrical Society
Venue Battle Memorial Hall
Type of Production Musical
Director Lee Lyons
Musical Director Richard Eldridge
Choreographer Keren Keeler-Moore & Ali Adams


Author: Anne Lawson

BLOG are a group with a traditional background and every now and again they experiment. I was therefore intrigued to see how they tackled this which, in 1981, was not a huge success, having rarely been performed since and even less by amateurs. I, like most of the audience had never seen it before.

It has a complicated story told backwards, beginning in 1976 and ending back in 1957, the story of the rise to fame of three young talents and the price they pay for success. I think it’s a show that grows on you - there are no memorable melodies, it proceeds through seven transitions and would benefit an audience to see it more than once to fully appreciate it.

The key three lead characters were performed with great confidence working much together as a team, with Chris Packham as Franklin Shepard, at the start of the musical a successful film producer and songwriter, ably matched by Will Spears playing best friend Charley Kringas and a solid emotional performance from Ali Adams as lovelorn soak Mary Flynn. Most of the songs are difficult, very wordy requiring considerable acting skills as well as passionate delivery to get them across.

Characters were well costumed using strong colour and in one scene using black throughout, which looked effective and, bearing in mind the wardrobe was working backwards in time, the overall appearance was pleasing. Good props throughout. Natural hairstyles were well coiffured by Frances Horne.

Dominating climber Gussie Carnegie, Frank’s second wife, was a sexy, ruthless woman played by Keren Keeler-Moore, contrasting well with gentler Beth, Frank’s first wife who truly loved him, portrayed by Hollie Saunters. Both performers captured the mood of their respective periods of Frank’s life. Rob Dyer as impresario, Joe Josephson, puffed away on his large cigar conning his ex-wife Gussie for money whenever possible. KT the TV Interviewer by Vickie Rowland used wonderful facial expressions as Charley and Frank’s relationship came apart on live TV, whilst Sharon Gordon and David Horne as Beth’s parents, captured the typical 50’s attitude to their daughter’s marriage. The rest of the cast made for believable supporting cameo parts and an excellent chorus with good harmonies well executed.  Young Leo Jones was introduced as Frank Jnr playing his part with confidence and I’m sure he’ll be back in the future.

Simple but effective Choreography was created by Keren Keeler-Moore and Ali Adams. Musical director Richard Eldridge with his hidden orchestra are to be congratulated on a fine performance, quite an achievement considering tight positioning behind the set.  Set design by Lee Lyons was simple, but included an impressive LA view, constructed and painted with his team seamlessly covering several locations and years. Sensible use of cubes and very good use of build-ons for crossovers and one scene with Mary sitting at a small table for ‘Not a Day Goes By’ quite moving, also perfect for the lengthy lounging and smoking scene.

Lighting from Gary Crawford and sound by Steve Allan and Sarah Jones of KDK Sound, enhanced the scenes. Good sync with music and typewriter.  This show was quite a challenge to audience and actors alike. Like an upside-down pudding - when revealed is a surprise – but a good one!