With lyrics and music by legendary Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth, you won’t probably be surprised to hear that this is one of those musicals that can appeal even to those who think musicals are a waste of time and money, leaving you intellectually dissatisfied while humming meaningless catchy tunes.
This production of Merrily We Roll Along moved in April from The Menier Chocolate Factory to the Harold Pinter Theatre, in the West End, for a limited run. It easily breaks through the thin glittery filters that characterize most musicals. It’s poignant, smart, strong and can live a life beyond a few catchy tunes.
Merrily We Roll Along tells the story of three friends from 1957 to 1976, but in reverse. It’s set in America, but it tackles universal themes. Although it starts with the ending, it manages to keep you hooked and excited about the… beginning in a beautifully constructed flashback that keeps adding pieces to the puzzle and various layers to the characters.
The musical has an interesting background history, it won awards and it is equally adored by audiences and critics. There isn’t much to deconstruct in terms of narrative, direction and production. The cast is impeccable, singing and dancing their way through 2 hours of challenging, changing characters over a period of 20 years of busy lives.
But the real incentive is the story that captures truths about ideals, compromises, dreams, friendship and makes them ring true, loud and clear. You’ll know it, because you’ll repeatedly go through the ‘aha’ moment, constantly nodding with sympathetic smiles. Sondheim’s musical makes you hum happy catchy tunes, while still brooding over the deeper meanings that reside in all the great plays. And that’s worth your time, money and mental space.