Fiddler on Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Merrily We Roll Along"

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entire contents copyright 2015 by Tony Annicone

"Merrily We Roll Along"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

F.U.D.G.E.'s final show is "Merrily We Roll Along", Stephen Sondheim's musical of friendship and ambition. It is based on the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It is the story of Franklin Shepard, a successful Hollywood film maker who betrays his two closet friends on the way up the ladder to fame and fortune. He abandons his theatrical songwriting career, his friends and everything to "go Hollywood" where he has achieved great wealth, fame and no one really knows what else. They look back on their lost relationships from 1976 to 1957 as the scenes move back in time to reveal what significant opportunities were squandered by Franklin's quest for prominence, renown and money. Director Joey DiMita takes his 19 member cast on this interesting and entertaining journey to discover the bittersweet relationships of these characters from their faded present to their idealistic past, giving the audience an evening of superlative theatre at its best.

The strong direction of Joey is witnessed in his blocking of his cast in the various scenes quickly, making the show flow smoothly from start to finish. He possesses a keen eye for detail and delivers a tightly honed show to be very proud of. Best wishes on your future endeavors in NYC! Music director Steven Bergman brings out the superb voices of the cast while conducting a seven piece orchestra. Jared Walsh tackles the role of Franklin Shepard with a powerful grasp of the character's inner workings. He goes from snide, cheating philanderer to young exuberant musician during the show and makes this transition with ease. Jared  has a wonderful singing voice which he displays in several songs. The most poignant, meaningful and moving is the closing song of the night, "Our Time" which expresses the hope and dreams of college age kids for a bright future. It touches everyone who has been there at that point in their lives.

The two close friends of Frank's are played by Adam Schuler and Andrea Giangreco. Adam plays the lyricist, Charley Kringas who gets dumped by Frank during a live broadcast on NBC. He sings how Frank has changed during a dynamic song called "Franklin Shepard Inc." where one of the funniest bits occurs as he complains about him on the live broadcast. The counterpoint to this bitter song is done in Act 2  when at their first backers audition they sing "Good Time Going" about how swell things are. A definite show stopper is the upbeat number called "Bobby and Jackie and Jack", telling the story of the Kennedys in the 1960 segment. The Irish jig section is hilarious.Adam excels at physical comedy, giving the role the energy and skill it needs.The last member of this trio, Mary is excellently played by Andrea. She captures the inner longings of a woman who yearns for a man, Frank, that she will never have. Andrea has a fantastic voice which she displays in "Old Friends", "It's a Hit" and "Not a Day Goes By" which she performs during Frank's wedding to Beth. It displays Mary's anguish at losing Frank to another woman. Andrea also shows Mary's comic side with gusto. The three talented performers do a topnotch job acting, dancing and especially singing this difficult Sondheim score. Kudos on a job well done.

The two wives of Frank's are dynamite performers, too. Katie Preisig plays Frank's first wife, Beth. The character isn't even seen until the end of the first act during the divorce trial scene. The dramatic entrance of the character is highlighted by an angry version of "Not a Day Goes By'' one of Sondheim's prettiest songs. The pathos really flows when young Frankie calls out to his father as he is being dragged out of court. 11 year old Connor Upton does a bang up job in this pivotal role. You find out Beth is justified for her behavior because of Frank's illicit affair with his leading lady, a pattern which he follows throughout his life. Katie does a fantastic job making the transition from angry ex-wife to devoted, supportive wife in 1962 and again to dewy eyed young girl madly in love with Frank in 1960. She has a fantastic soprano voice. Vanessa Calantropo is phenomenal as Gussie, Frank's second wife. Gussie is a man eating bitch who uses every man in her life to gain stardom and fame. She is the person who leads Frank to destroy his friendship with Charley and Mary. Vanessa handles the role with all the right moves, playing the damsel in distress to controlling mistress to shrewish wife. She sings the "Growing Up" songs but never does grow up as well as "The Blob" about the backers of the show being like sponges absorbing everything they see while eating, drinking and smoking dope. Vanessa also sings "Good Thing Going On" to open Act 2. Gussie is punished in the first scene when you find out Frank is having an affair with his new leading lady, Meg Kincaid played by gorgeous Sarah Cowell.

Ben Sharton plays the producer, Joe Josephson the producer who gets used by Gussie during this time. He marries her and helps her become a star. She was his secretary and he also helped her get a nose job. He then falls on hard times after she leaves him and depends on handouts from her. Ben delivers the goods with his gruff portrayal while chomping on a cigar. He does a great job on the group number, "It's a Hit." I reviewed Ben as Moritz in "Spring Awakening" and John Hinckley in "Assassins" at F.U.D.G.E.Some other standout roles in this large cast are Anne Marie Alvarez as KT, a hardass TV reporter who gets put in her place by Charley,and Ryan Solero and Sarajane Mullins as Beth's Southern, rich parents who don't want her to marry a musician. Kudos to the entire cast on a terrific job on this Sondheim musical. So for an excellent musical treat which is also bittersweet because it is F.U.D.G.E.'s last show, be sure to catch this dynamite musical before time runs out. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Merrily We Roll Along" (10 - 18 July)
@ Black Box, The Arsenal Center for The Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide