"Merrily We Roll Along," now playing at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster, examines many themes, from the difficulty of maintaining life-long friendships to the high price of fame.
The story of three long time best friends is both brilliant and heartbreaking, and Maura Hanlon’s deft direction makes this production shine. It doesn’t hurt that she has a magnificently talented cast who bring true emotion to Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics and George Furth’s book.
The musical begins in Bel Air, Calif., in 1976 at a party to celebrate composer Frank Shepard’s latest Hollywood hit. What should be a happy moment is overshadowed by disillusionment and a deep sense of loss – of self and of ideals.
As the ensemble sings the title song, the lyrics "How did you ever get there from here?" become the central question of the show.
To answer that question, "Merrily" moves back in time with each scene all the way back to 1957, when Frank first meets his future partner, lyricist and playwright Charley Kringas, and writer Mary Flynn. The backwards in time device could be a suspense killer in lesser hands. After all, the audience already knows how and why everything goes sour.
But instead, it makes the messy road of life all the more tragic. As you watch the younger idealistic characters dream big, you know those dreams will eventually be dashed. The trio of real-life friends Adam Berry, Jared Hagan and Trish LaRose are devastatingly sublime in the title roles. What chemistry they have!
Berry’s facial expressions and vocals perfectly capture all the nuances of the character Frank, who has sold out both himself and his friends on his ride to the top. His excuses ring false, but it’s impossible not to sympathize with him, even when he’s behaving in an unlikable manner.
As Charley, Hagan beautifully illustrates all of the frustrations of a lyricist who prefers artistic integrity rather than commercial success. This is especially true in the fast-paced bitter song, "Franklin Shepard, Inc." LaRose nimbly transforms from a cynical washed up drunk to a longing young woman in love with a man she cannot have. She also has a powerhouse voice and wicked comic timing.
Rachel O’Malley is luminous in the role of Gussie, Frank’s second wife, whose conniving ways can only bring her so far.
Ben Berry also gives a solid performance as cocky turned pathetic producer Joe Josephson. Kelly Plescia gives a poignant turn as Frank’s first wife Beth. Her solo performance of "Not a Day Goes By" and the later reprise with LaRose and Adam Berry is heartrending.
An extremely talented ensemble and production team back these actors up with gusto. Andrew Licout’s set design of movable panels create the perfect screens for production designer Lisa Renkel’s montage of photos that anchor each decade so exquisitely. Costume designer Robin McLaughlin outdoes herself with the perfect costumes for each era, especially the fashion cringe-worthy ones. Mary Fritz also contributes just the right props.
At two hours and 15 minutes, "Merrily" stretches a bit long, but the sheer talent of everyone involved in this season opening production make it time well spent.
See the show
What: 'Merrily We Roll Along'
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through June 3 (no performance May 23)
Where: Cape Rep Theatre, 3299 Route 6A, Brewster
Admission: $35 to $40
Tickets: 508-896-1888 or caperep.org