I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
Yesterday Is Done
It is rare when a show creeps up and utterly charms your socks off as much as Little Triangle's production of Merrily We Roll Along. Playing at the Depot Theatre for a far-too-short season, this lesser known Sondheim musical staged by this newbie company is slick, polished, warm and genuine - an absolute delight for every single moment of the two and a half hour run time.
The story focuses on Franklin Shepard, a composer and film producer at the height of his success professionally in 1976, but struggling with personal turmoil. The show moves chronologically backwards from 1976 through Frank's life, focusing on his relationships with the people around him, mainly his two wives Beth and Gussie and his two best friends Charley and Mary. We get snapshots of Frank's history and the events that left him lonely at the top, as the show takes us through the significant moments in his life from 1976 to 1957. The backwards storyline creates a beautifully poignant show, which is executed perfectly by the cast and production team.
Alexander Andrews demonstrates considerable skill in his minimalist design and clever direction. Andrews has assembled a stellar cast and features them, rather than flashy sets. It's in the humanity of the show that the beauty exists, and Andrews has evidently understood that loud and clear. His design is simple and effective, utilising the black box of the Depot Theatre to great effect with a series of white doors with the different years written on them fastened to one of the walls.
Conrad Hamill's musical direction is nothing short of perfect with a fantastic two-piece consisting of keys and strings creating a real beauty in the score. His work with the cast is evident also as there doesn't seem to be a single weak link in the large ensemble - everyone nails their solo lines with aplomb and the harmonies are everything you would hope for from a Sondheim show.
There is minimal choreography in the show, but Victoria Luxton's numbers complement the piece nicely without being too "showy". Mitchell Wassink's work on costumes is outstanding, really utilising a colour palette and outfits that throws us right back into the 60's with ease. Lighting design by Alex Smiles is good for the most part, although in some whole ensemble numbers the states don't quite cover all the actors so some are in half darkness.
The golden-voiced Patrick Howard is wonderful as Franklin, demonstrating a firm grasp on the success-hungry composer with one foot each in a different world. The only improvement I noted (and it's a small one) is that as the time goes backwards, Howard could afford to adjust his character slightly to read younger. In the final scene, sitting next to a completely transformed, youthful Charley, Frank looked out of place and too mature for the rest of the wide-eyed idealism of the rest of the cast.
Charley is played by Zach Selmes, who captures the slightly neurotic, ever frustrated writer beautifully. Victoria Zerbst's Mary, who rounds out the three best friends, is delightfully sassy and dry and really the backbone of the friendship. Shannen Sarstedt as Franklin's first wife, Beth, is sweet, kind and caring, but shows her emotional range with a strong rendition of 'Not A Day Goes By'. Matilda Moran as Gussie is feisty, strong and even though she's incredibly self-involved, Moran has been able to capture a vulnerable side that very occasionally peeks through, making Gussie a fully rounded character.
The true impressiveness of this production lies in the ensemble work. This cast zips on and offstage seamlessly, nailing their harmonies, breathing life to each role they tackle and provide wonderful moments of fun and thoughtfulness. It is as tight an ensemble performance as I have seen on a Sydney stage in a long time.
Little Triangle and the Depot Theatre have an absolute winner of a production on their hands with Merrily We Roll Along. Given the professionalism and seamlessness of this production, it is hard to believe that this is only Little Triangle's second show (Sunday in the Park With George was presented last year). If this is anything to go by, I would say the future of independent musical theatre in Sydney is looking very bright indeed.