Merrily We Roll Along
Sacramento, CA 95818
Three big things that make New Helvetia’s production of Merrily We Roll Along work: an outstanding cast; songs by Stephen Sondheim, which are always complex and interesting; and airtight direction by Connor Mickiewicz, who’s also the company’s artistic director and president.
But the move to the cavernous and traditional proscenium stage at the 24th Street Theatre sucks all the intimacy out of an otherwise bright show. Granted, the stage is large enough to allow the entire cast room to move, as well as housing a five-piece band and a multi-story set, but this story of a successful if jaded man’s life—told backwards, so that we end with him on an emotional high note in the embrace of friends and values we know he has abandoned for glitz and money—is emotionally powerful, and it loses a little something when the emotion is kept at a distance.
That said, Mickiewicz has assembled a cast that is, frankly, kick-ass. As Frank, Matthew Schneider peels off his slick and scaly shell to become a guy with high ideals and hopes. Jouni Kirjola, known locally for nonsinging roles, is a hoot as Frank’s writing partner and best friend, Charley—he steals the show with “Frank Shepard, Inc.,” a song about Frank’s transformation from composer to businessman. Lauren Parker completes the trio of friends-gone-cold as Mary, and her great performance as a disillusioned, sarcastic drunk makes her unveiling as a romantic, hopeful girl even more heartbreaking.
It is, of course, yet another entry in New Helvetia’s museum of musicals about musical theater, joining Tick, Tick … BOOM!, [title of show] and They’re Playing Our Song in their list of tributes. It is also—yet again—extremely well-done, with voices and songs worth both time and ears.