Merrily We Roll Along

Sat 5th – Sat 12th August 2017


Helen Chatterton

at 11:16 on 7th Aug 2017



‘Merrily We Roll Along’ is a two-hour musical which traces the life of successful movie producer Frank Shepard in reverse order, exploring how he has gradually become estranged from his friends. Whilst there were elements of success, the production lacked impact, and it felt like more rehearsal time wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The story line was very interesting, and would make for a riveting book. However, the unconventional structure was not enough to compensate for the generally weak portrayal of emotion, that made it hard to care for any character. Characterisation as a whole could have been taken much further. Additionally, there were occasions on which I was left with very little idea as to what was going on onstage. The opening number was confusing as it did not really set the scene as to what was going on. The point of a whole number, ‘Bobbie and Jackie and Jack’, eluded me entirely. In the same vein, Charlie Booker is evidently a talented dancer, but the motivation behind his short dance break in the second half was unclear. At some points, it would have been easier to follow the plot had the cast had shared roles more evenly, as some took on wide range of roles whereas others were almost as a member of the ensemble.

Many members of the cast were strong vocalists, particularly Sian Price Marshall and Lucy Smith. Jack Stark’s voice was also adept, and his harmonies with Price Marshall and TJ Lloyd were consistently polished. Despite this, I quickly came to dread entire company numbers, as for an inexplicable reason they always seemed to become unbearably shrill, and it was often hard to discern what was being said. Unsurprisingly, some ‘bum notes’ occurred during the production, with one cast member visibly flinching onstage at his peer’s mistake. The continual use of accents was impressive as a whole, but one or two cast members were significantly weaker.

The production was plagued with technical issues, included several instances of feedback and microphones dropping in and out regularly. Whilst the cast handled this well it was nevertheless distracting and meant that some dialogue was lost. The sound bite supposed to sound like applause was more reminiscent of rain, and cut out abruptly. Similarly, there was several instances of off stage noise, props being knocked to the floor, and spilled drinks tested the balance of Jack Stark.

The placement of a live band on stage was impressive, but their positioning rapidly grew distracting due to some members fidgeting. As with group vocals, on occasion there was an element to the accompaniment that was uncomfortable to listen to.

In all, the production had its merits and some catchy songs, and the audience was left tapping along to the closing moments. However, it was consistently hard to feel any sort of attachment to the plot, and this indifference made the two hours go by slowly.


Claire Louise Richardson

at 11:31 on 7th Aug 2017



This piece of musical theatre tells the story of a playwright called Frank, and travels back in time to survey Frank’s career, during the Great Depression and the roaring 20s, with a focus on American culture. This play was far too long, with too many characters, and lacked any real depth of personality. The singing was tuneful, but shrill, and the acting was extremely wooden. Frank was the most disappointing – cast perhaps as he is not bad looking and has a decent voice, but at no point during any of his delivery did he really look out to the audience or seem to be feeling what he was saying. To be honest, none of the characters were sensational or believable.

A particularly wooden scene involved an emotionless and passionless break up, which felt like a piece that was being run through quickly to test if the characters knew their lines. Is this their performance every day, or was the cast a bit sleepy for this Sunday performance? Again, during a wedding; the most wooden recital of a character stating that is was ‘the most important moment in both of our lives’. It did not look like this was the case.

Nevertheless, credit must be given for the choreography and stagecraft, with a cast of about twenty and a live band throughout each scene. The play ran to 130 minutes so there was an incredible amount of material to learn and polish, so either this criticism is too harsh or the production was too ambitious. Furthermore, while the acting was wooden, there was not a forgotten line or confused moment; the entire cast knew where they were supposed to be and when. Perhaps if a few more characters were knocked out of the equation there would have been more time to sharpen the acting.

If anything, the show was perhaps too bland for the Fringe. It lacked the controversy, the fun, and the zest of the rest. This was supposed to be a musical – where was the razzle dazzle? At any rate, the actual music was very good, including the songs ‘Who Wants to Live in New York’, and the title theme ‘Merrily We Roll Along’. I would certainly follow them on Spotify. My favourite performer was the character playing Beth, who stood out in some of the singing scenes, as she was the only one to really connect with the audience.

Overall, the plot is pleasant, but it is like the audience are watching a rehearsal. Realistically the actors were picked for their voices, and they carried the piece well, but not dynamically. Merrily we Roll Along; it did roll along but with little merriment.


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