Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Merrily We Roll Along"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2002 by Tony Annicone

"Merrily We Roll Along"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Providence College's Blackfriars Theatre's current production is Stephen Sondheim's musical of friendship and ambition, "Merrily We Roll Along". It is the story of Franklin Shepard, a successful Hollywood film maker, who betrays his two closest friends on his way up the ladder to fame and fortune. They look back on their lost relationships from 1976 to 1957 as the scenes move back in time. Director Peter Sampieri takes his 22 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 topnotch college theatre.

Graduate student, James Fernandes 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. He makes this transition with ease. James has a wonderful singing voice which he shows off in several numbers and especially poignant and meaningful is the closing number of the night called, "Our Time". It expresses the hopes and dreams of college age kids of a bright future, touching everyone who has been at that po int in their lives. The two close friends of Frank's are played by Chris Silva and Elana Vasi. Chris 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". One of the funniest bits occurs during this scene when James and Chris climb over the back of the sofa just in time to start the live TV interview. The counterpoint to this bitter song is done later in Act 2 when they have their first backers audition and sing how well everything is in "Good Thing Going". An upbeat number that brings the house down is "Bobby and Jackie and Jack" which takes place in the 1960 segment and tells the story of the Kennedys in the White House. The music includes an Irish jig section that is hilarious. (The show's talented pianist, Stephen Rougas joins in on this song and does a fantastic job during the whole show.) Chris excells at physical comedy and he takes this role and infuses it with the energy and skill it needs. The last member of this trio, Mary is played by Elana Vasi. She captures the inner longings of a woman who yearns for a man (Frank) she will never have. Mary has a fantastic voice which she shows off in "Old Friends", "It's A Hit" and "Not A Day Goes By". The latter one is done during Frank's wedding to Beth, displaying Mary's anguish at losing Frank to another woman. Elana also plays the comic side of Mary with gusto, too. This three talented performers do a wonderful job acting, dancing and especially singing this difficult Sondheim score. Kudos on a job well done.

Laura Chandler plays Frank's first wife, Beth. The character isn't seen until later in the first act during the divorce trial scene. The dramatic entrance of Beth is highlighted by an angry version of one of Sondheim's prettiest songs in the show called, "Not A Day Goes By". The pathos is really brought out when Zachary Becker as Frank Jr. calls out to his father as the young boy is being dragged away. (this young boy does a great job in this show.) You find out Beth is justified in her treatment of Frank by his illict behavior with his leading lady. A pattern which follows him later in life, too. Laura shows her acting skill when she makes the transition to devoted wife supporting her husband in 1962 and dewy eyed young girl madly in love with Frank in 1960. Frank's second wife, Gussie is played by Tiff Toner. Gussie is a maneating 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. 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, leggy blond Lauren Keyes. Tiff handles the role of Gussie with all the right moves, playing the damsel in distress to controlling mistress to shrewish wife. She sings the "Growing Up" songs but the character really never does and sings about the backers as "The Blob" because they are like sponges absorbing everything they see while they eat, drink and smoke dope. Erik Andersen plays the producer, Joe Josephson who gets used by Gussie during this time. He marries Gussie, helps her become a star and then he falls on hard times after she leaves him, depending on handouts from her. Erik plays the role while chomping on a cigar and delivers the goods with a gruff portrayal of the character. He also does a great job in the "It's A Hit" number.

Most of the cast play many different roles and some of them include Betsey Jensen as KT, a hardass TV reporter who gets put in her place by Charlie, Michael Propster as Frank's agent and Rich Porcelli and Gabrielle Occhiogrosso as Beth's snooty parents who don't want her to marry a musician. The rest of the cast includes Troy Quinn, (strong tenor voice) Brett Rowan, Katie Grzyb, Jason Davis, Peter Waugh, Laura Cheely, Elizabeth Eschen, Katie Cheely, Kate Mundy and Caitlin Deery. (Dominic Dion doubles as Frank Jr. at other performances.) The chorus sounds as good as the leading players due to the hard work of David Harper who teaches the many and varied difficult disonant songs. The topnotch orchestra is lead by conductor, Christopher Kelton. The three two story ladders and the two story door facade of the set is cleverly designed by Alicia Wolcott. All of that plus various set pieces are brought in and out by this hard working cast. Marilyn Salvatore designs the many gorgeous costumes in this show, making it a colorful joy to watch. Last but not least, the overall effect of this show is dominated by the strong direction of Peter Sampieri. He blocks this huge cast around the various scenes quickly, making the show flow smoothly from start to finish. Although only in his twenties, Peter displays a skill beyond his years and possesses a keen eye for detail and delivers a tightly, honed show to be proud of.

So for a musical treat be sure to catch, "Merrily We Roll Along" at Providence College. These young performers will leave you spellbound with their talent.

"Merrily We Roll Along" (25 October - 3 November)
Providence College, River Ave. & Eaton St., PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 865-2218

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide