Review by Danny Gaisin
When Stephen Sondheim tackles a subject; he goes straight for the jugular…and not just in Sweeney Todd! The psychoses in ‘Company’; the underlines in ‘A little Night Music’; and the prejudices of ‘West Side Story’; while never negating the music, are nevertheless intrinsic to the plot. Ditto for MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.
The narrative concerns a successful Hollywood producer, his two best friends; wives 1 & 2, plus an A-List of acquaintances & hangers-on. The audience is taken from contemporary (circa 1976) back to the mid-fifties when the trio first meet.
Following the story has a history of being a challenge but guest director Richard Ouzounian has done a masterful job of facilitating plot-monitoring by the audience. Sheridan’s Theatre Arts department must have blown the budget as this is as professional, as skilled and as deserved of being an O.A.R. “Top Ten” contender as anything that Mirvish; Dancap, or even the Shaw /Stratford operations could fabricate. Ouzounian’s penchant for detail, credibility, and cast opportunities to excel, are central to this superb effort. From both pace and flow, one senses his finger on every facet of ‘Merrily’, from lighting to costumes, to choreographed blocking & synchronization by the ensemble, to the utilization of a very Broadway-ish stage set.
Critic-Ouzuounian and this scribe may have different opinions; but director-Ouzounian gets full tribute from me…just as he did for his ‘Jerry Springer’!
The numerous costumes are necessitated by a need to delineate the devolutionary eras the play covers. Having the chorus/ensemble members physically acknowledge the more symbolic caricatures of the celebs becomes a fun challenge for viewers, as portrayals are somewhat arcane. The mobile stage is circular with two sets of curved staircases that allow a rather large number of the cast to be visible at the same time, almost like a human frame for the central nucleus. Intricate sound/light techniques are impeccable and realistic … another aspect of Sheridan’s professional training.
The three leads are portrayed by Matt Nethersole (Frank); Sarah Rorabeck as Mary; and Corey Agnew playing Charley- the less ambitious, but the conscience of the trio. Their individual role interpretations plus the chemistry they seem to have for each other give an authentic realism to the trio. Their voices are a delight during solos and duet/trios. Agnew’s ‘Franklin Shepard Inc.’ number is as challenging and delightful as the 3rd act reiteration by Bialystock in ‘The Producers’! He just about stops the show. The ‘Old Friends’ paean to the ‘Good Morning’ bit in ‘Singing In the Rain’ comes a very-close second. Solid support is contributed by Claire Rouleau as successful actress cum wife #2 – ‘Gussie’, and by an amazingly animated Camila Diaz-Varela who’s divorce scene projects all the pathos of such a significant moment.
With ‘Toronto-downtown level’ great direction; immaculate staging; elaborate technical crewing and dynamite cast… but all at an ‘uptown price’. It’s a treat and certainly a deal! “MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG” runs until April 20th. Call the Sheridan box office 905-815-4049