If you love the much honored and revered composer and lyricist Stephen Sondeim, as I do, you should hurry to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for the production of “Merrily We Roll Along,” before it closes December 18th.
It may not be as stirring and memorable as Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and “Sunday in the Park with George,” among others
But as I comment in my review on public radio 97.5 KBU, “Merrily” is still Sondheim, and has a sting that prickles long after the bows are taken to a well deserved applause.
And, to be sure, you can see and hear the flaws that marked “Merrily,” in its debut in 1981, and crashed after only 16 performances. The book based on a 1930s play by the legendary George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and written the late George Furth moves awkwardly from the present to the past, in the musical 1978 back twenty years .
It traces the demise of the collaboration of a success obsessed composer, played perhaps too convincingly by Aaron Lazar – it makes him unlikable – and an idealist playwright, played with an appealing passion by Wayne Brady. A Greek chorus of an abiding friend is played by an edgy Donna Vivino. It does make for a stew of a soap opera of sorts.
But then all becomes a hazy back story and flimsy structure for the captivating songs, delivered with an appealing verve by Brady, an aching quality by Lazar, and a pitch perfect professionalism by the accompanying cast.
They all moved well in and out of shadows in sensitive lighting and on a modest yet imaginative set designed by Dane Laffrey.
As for the direction, the flawed book and structure no doubt was a challenge to Michael Arden, as I might add they obviously were way back when to the celebrated Harold Prince.
The musical does have a lot of musical parts and disparate characters, and the stage at times does get crowded, and confusing. And, yes, the ill-fitting, and for a few, not flattering costumes are distraction.
But the score by Sondheim transcends, and makes for a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Go see it if you can.