OUR FIFTH SONDHEIM MUSICAL!
February 4 - March 7, 2010
Merrily We Roll Along
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen
Choreographed by Kelly Todd
Musical Direction by Mike Wilkins
- 01/19/10 ARTICLE: Broadway World
- 02/10/10 REVIEW: Orange County Register
- 02/10/10 REVIEW: Fullerton Observer
- 02/10/10 REVIEW: Broadway World
- 02/15/10 REVIEW: Stage Scene LA WOW!
- 02/15/10 REVIEW: Theater Times
- 02/16/10 ARTICLE: Anaheim Hills News
- 02/23/10 REVIEW: Press-Enterprise
- 03/04/10 REVIEW: LA Stage Blog
- 03/04/10 REVIEW: Stage Happenings
- 03/04/10 REVIEW: OC Family
Chance Theater presents Merrily We Roll Along
by Broadway World
The Chance Theater is pleased to kick off its 2010 season with Stephen Sondheim's fascinating musical Merrily We Roll Along February 4 - March 7. This time-defying, Tony-nominated classic - most famously revered for its 1994 off-Broadway revival and West End productions - offers a lively journey through the milestones in the lives of three friends.
On a roof top in West Side Manhattan, Frank, Mary, and Charley watch as Sputnik flashes across the sky heralding the dawn of a new era. With all the idealism and exuberance of youth, these three friends look forward to a promising future. The trio do grow up to realize their goals, but they may have paid a greater price than they anticipated.
Beginning in the mid-1970s and traveling backwards to the time of the space race in the late 1950s, Merrily We Roll Along takes audiences on a tuneful trip through the rivalries, jealousies, triumphs and failures of three musical colleagues to uncover how they got "here" from "there". Featuring such classics as "Not A Day Goes By," "Old Friends," "Good Thing Going" and, of course, "Merrily We Roll Along," this musical fable takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway dream.
"More than just 'the show that travels backward in time', Merrily We Roll Along is about friendships, relationships, hopes, and dreams, the effect time has on them, and what happens when they're not tended to," explains director Oanh Nguyen, Chance Theater Artistic Director. "Chronologically, it begins in the middle of the space race with all the optimism, confidence, and idealism of that time, and ends in a post-Vietnam, post-Nixon society that has become disillusioned. This reflection of America's identity and evolving definition of success and the ‘American Dream' makes Merrily relevant today."
Stephen Sondheim is regarded as one of the most influential and accomplished composer/lyricists in Broadway history. Among his many notable works are Company (1969), Follies (1970), A Little Night Music (1972), Sweeney Todd (1978), Sunday in the Park with George (1983), and Into the Woods (1987). Sondheim has garnered eight Tony Awards, seven drama Desk Awards, seven Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and an Academy Award. Sondheim's musical adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along opened on November 16, 1981 in Broadway's Alvin Theatre and was revived off-Broadway at the York Theatre on May 26, 1994.
Thursday, February 4 at 8 pm
Opening Night/Press Night
Friday, February 5 at 8 pm
Saturday, February 6 - Sunday, March 7
Friday & Saturday evenings at 8 pm
Saturday matinees at 3 pm (No Saturday matinee on February 6)
Sundays at 2 pm & 7 pm
Thursdays Feb 25 & March 4 at 8 pm
$30 to $45
(Discounts for seniors, students, and military)
5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, CA 92807
Recently nominated for six Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Awards (including Best Season), and named "Outstanding Arts Organization" for the second time in five years by Arts Orange County, the Chance is proud to be one of the leading ensemble based theatre companies in Southern California. Voted "Best Theater Group" by MyFoxLA for two years in a row and "Best Small Theater" by Orange Coast Magazine, the Chance is a recipient of the 2007 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle's (LADCC) Polly Warfield Award for Excellence. Founded in 1999, the Chance Theater's mission has always been to intimately present personally meaningful, uniquely engaging stories that promote dialogue within our community and provide a visceral experience for theatergoers. As a constituent member of Theater Communications Group (TCG), Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), and the Los Angeles Stage Alliance (LASA), the Chance continues to bring national attention to the Southern California and Orange County theater scene through its recent achievements, which includes a 2006 GLAAD Media Award nomination for Outstanding Los Angeles Theater.
'Merrily We Roll Along' charts the high price of success
by Eric Marchese, Orange County Register
There's no accounting for popular or critical tastes, which makes the original reception of Stephen Sondheim's 1981 musical "Merrily We Roll Along" somewhat puzzling.
Sondheim again worked with "Company" collaboraters George Furth and Hal Prince, this time crafting a story that meshes "Company's" portrait of New Yorkers with the show-biz theme of "Follies."
Yet, the show tanked, and a rift developed between Sondheim and Prince – ironic in that the main characters of "Merrily" are show-biz producers, composers and writers whose personal and career choices push their friendships to the breaking point.
Even excepting the often bitter taste it leaves in your mouth, there's plenty to love about this show. Stagings of it don't come around too often, so catch Chance Theater's outstanding production while you still can.
Nearly every aspect of this fine staging is all of a piece, starting with Oanh Nguyen's direction, Mike Wilkins' musical direction and Kelly Todd's choreography and continuing on through the cast, from leads Jeremy Fillinger, Ryland Dodge and Amie Bjorklund to the show's solidly professional ensemble.
The concept of telling the story in reverse chronological order is nothing novel (Pinter's "Betrayal"), but it's been used a lot more in recent plays (Jason Robert Brown's "The Last Five Years" and Dennis Kelly's "Love and Money") than during Sondheim's heyday.
"Merrily" is also one of the few instances of Sondheim adapting and musicalizing a previous stage work – in this case, George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1934 play of the same name.
The musical's caustic opening scenes, set in 1976, expose the plastic phoniness of Tinseltown. Hot Hollywood movie producer Frank Shepard (Fillinger) is weary and full of self-loathing. Not yet 40, he has obviously paid the price of success.
Each successive scene reveals how the cracks developed in his friendships with lifelong writing partner Charley Kringas (Dodge) and fellow writer Mary Flynn (Bjorklund).
By the time we've arrived at the story's starting point – the 1957 rooftop meeting of 20-year-olds Frank, Charley and Mary – our hearts are heavy. We've already seen what these characters will do to each other and themselves.
More tellingly, we're able to see how each – Frank most markedly – has compromised his integrity and ideals to achieve success, fame and wealth. Concerning friendship, trust and loyalty, this story is ages-old and universal.
Fillinger telegraphs Frank's impassivity and conflicted spirit; he and Nguyen make sure we see Frank's pugnacity, subtle charm and muted desperation.
Dodge, with his dark hair and small stature, provides a fitting contrast to Fillinger's Frank. It isn't hard to extrapolate that Charley's disgust with the "business" side of show business is also something deeply ingrained within Sondheim and Furth.
Bjorklund has a gravitas that forces you to take Mary dead serious. She shows us Mary's earthy good sense and pragmatism (before they're dulled by booze) and her bitter disappointment over the way the lifelong bond between the three pals – symbolized by the pinkie-link – is dissolving.
As the trio moves backward in time from maturity to youth, they become more optimistic and blindly idealistic – sentiments expressed in the closing numbers "Opening Doors" and "Our Time."
All six ensemble members essay numerous roles. Liz Holt and Laura M. Hathaway shine as the women in Frank's life. Holt's portrayal of Beth, Frank's first wife, carries an electric aura, while as Gussie Carnegie, Hathaway is every inch the vain, shallow, ambitious and vindictive star – but she also glows when flashing her dazzling megawatt smile.
Offstage, Wilkins delivers the play's score on piano, backed by Jonathan Proctor (reeds and flute) and Cole Peterson (percussion). Like all Sondheim works, "Merrily" demands, and here gets, outstanding singers.
Fillinger's vocals are high-pitched, soft and delicate, offset by Dodge's lower register and more prosaic delivery and Bjorklund's no-frills singing style. Holt delivers Beth's emotional anguish in "Not a Day Goes By," one of the show's most durable songs. The ensemble is outstanding, handling the tricky, demanding score – like the nine-voice polyphony of "Now You Know" – with ease.
Nguyen's staging and Christopher Scott Murillo's scenic design keep things elegantly streamlined, using only a grand piano and a set of metal chairs as props, with skylines and other visuals projected onto vertical panels high upstage.
Katie Schmidt's monochromatic costumes suggest the shimmering quality of the silver screen, while KC Wilkerson's lighting mimics the harsh glare of celebrity and the annoying flashbulbs of the paparazzi.
Over the past decade, Chance Theater has become a haven for those who love Sondheim's works, with fine stagings of "Company," "Into the Woods," "Assassins" and "Sunday in the Park with George." Can "Follies," "Pacific Overtures" and "Passion" be up next? We can only hope.
'Merrily We Roll Along'
by Joyce Rosenthal, Fullerton Observer
Merrily We Roll Along is the title of the current production at Chance Theater and also the name of a song heard throughout the show. This play by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and George Furth (book) covers the lives of three friends from 1976 to 1957. It’s the years that go merrily rolling along to discover among other things, the price paid for success as the friends go from now to then.
It’s 1976 and Producer Franklin Shepard is hosting a party at his Bel Air house to celebrate the premiere of his latest hit movie. He appears glum although he is successful, rich and famous. An old friend, Mary Flynn, is at the party and berates Frank for what he’s given up to get where he is. In addition, his latest marriage to Gussie is breaking up.
The rest of the scenes take place in New York City beginning with an NBC Studio in 1973, Frank’s Central Park West apartment in 1968, a courtroom in 1967, a theater in 1964, a brownstone house in 1962 and a small nightclub in 1960. The final segment, on a rooftop on 110th St., is where it all began in 1957 as three young friends scan the sky waiting to see Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. After they see it, they all feel that now, anything is possible.
Each segment is identified as to time and place and although you may not recognize various characters at first just pay attention. You will see them in the next scene and be able to say “Aha, so that’s who she/he is.” It becomes easy and effortless because the play is so well done.
The action is non-stop and the performers are in constant motion without a misstep thanks to the efforts of Director Oanh Nguyen and Choreographer Kelly Todd . The set seems almost bare but soon reveals various ways to enter and exit the stage thanks to the Scenic and Projection Design by Christopher Scott Murillo. The musical trio consisting of Mike Wilkin on piano, Jonathan Proctor on the flute, clarinet and alto sax and Cole Peterson on percussion adds immeasurably to the show.
All of the cast has good voices and all performed ably especially the three leads, Jeremy Fillinger (Franklin Shepard), Ryland Dodge (Charley Kringas) and Amie Bjorklund (Mary Flynn).and others who played multiple roles, Alex Bueno (KT/Ensemble), Laura M. Hathaway (Gussie/Ensemble) and Liz Holt (Beth/Ensemble).
Merrily We Roll Along plays through March 7, 2010 at the Chance Theater.
Going Backwards in 'Merrily We Roll Along'
by Michael L. Quintos, Broadway World
In 1981 the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG lasted for 52 (!) previews and a staggeringly short 16 regular performances before its closure on Broadway. Met with some of Sondheim's harshest criticisms (a rarity within his top-notch career full of well-received hits), the musical play told in reverse (time-wise, that is) is quite a challenging piece to take in. As Chance Theater's current production (performing through March 7 in Anaheim Hills), theater co-founder and director Oanh Nguyen certainly lived up to his theater's name and took a respectable chance on mounting a musical that may not be everyone's cup of tea.
The musical centers around the life of Frank Shepard (played by Jeremy Fillinger), a successful Hollywood producer who (we progressively discover) used to be a pretty great composer of musicals, before being lured away by the money, fame, and the bigger, brighter lights of film studios. His former creative partner—and soon, we also learn, his former best friend—is Charley Kringas (Rylan Dodge), an amicable fellow with big ideas and big dreams. The two form a friendly trio with Mary Flynn (Amie Bjorklund), a writer. When the show begins, the year is 1976 and we find ourselves in Bel Air, California where Frank is throwing a swell party, filled to the brim with Frank's so-called industry "friends"...shallow, urbane yes-men (and -women) that grovel at his feet and praise his latest blockbuster. Mary is conspicuously ill-fitting here, even more so because she's rather loud, rather honest, and rather, well, drunk. Frank's life then goes to complete shambles as his friendship with Mary crumbles and his marriage implodes after his wife Gussie (Laura M. Hathaway) attacks his long-suspected mistress.
The cast sings... "How did we get there from here?" Well, by telling its story chronologically backwards, that's how. Much like the original play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the show is told in reverse (up to all the way back to 1957, when Sputnik raced across the night sky). We learn via the show's contemporary "greek chorus" (and some nifty supertitles that project the year we're in on the wall!) that Frank, as years roll by, became more concerned with selling out than immersing himself in creative inspiration—a trait that significantly affected his relationships with the people that cared about him the most. There are certainly thematic ghosts of past Sondheim shows Follies and Company bubbling on the surface.
...Sondheim's memorable score—enhanced here by the wonderful movements conceived by resident choreographer Kelly Todd—is a melodic, lyrically-rich treasure that unfold as the years tick back. Much like all of Sondheim's more widely-known efforts, what saves this show is his wonderful set of songs—performed in this particular production by a very enthusiastic, talented ensemble cast. As Frank Shepard, Fillinger is great in the lead role and performs some admirable singing work. His excellent acting rapport with both Bjorklund and Dodge are showcased well, and the latter two actors are also vocally commendable. Also worth mentioning is the musical solo moments delivered by impressively-voiced cast member Liz Holt. Collectively, though, the ensemble does some incredible work both in fine solos and all together in harmoniously beautiful choral moments. Not hampered by a small space (kudos also goes to the bare bones, yet cleverly constructed sets and projections), the cast is brisk and lively as they move about the stage—which is a treat that transcends the show's flaws.
Though MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (the source material) seems like it merrily trudges along, Chance Theater's production is buoyed by a collective creative enthusiasm that's wonderfully palpable and exuberantly infectious all throughout the show's performance.
'Merrily We Roll Along'
by Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
Some productions belong to the actors, some to the writer, some even to the designers. Then there are Sondheim shows directed by Oanh Nguyen. These productions belong to the director, and the latest Sondheim/Nguyen collaboration, the composer’s 1981 Merrily We Roll Along, is no exception. That’s not to say that Nguyen’s cast aren’t delivering fine performances. They are. That’s not to say that his design team haven’t produced some brilliant work here. They have. But what sets this Merrily apart from others is Nguyen’s vision. You may have seen Merrily We Roll Along before, but you haven’t seen this Merrily We Roll Along.
Merrily’s road from Broadway to the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills was a long and winding (and rocky) one. The Broadway original was a flop, lasting only sixteen performances following a lengthy, troubled out-of-town tryout period and a then unheard-of almost two months of previews. Only Sondheim’s score was praised by the New York critics. It wasn’t until the show’s 1990 Washington D.C. revisal that Merrily began to take on its current shape, and a 1994 off-Broadway production finally made it to over fifty performances (fifty-four to be precise) and left behind a cast recording that reflects its present form. Further revivals followed, leading up to 2010’s Merrily à la Oanh.
Perhaps early audiences didn’t take to the show’s reverse chronology. It begins in 1975, its trio of lead characters permanently estranged despite their friendship’s promising start some eighteen years before. The musical’s final scene, set on a rooftop as Sputnik orbits the earth (signaling the beginning of both a friendship and the space age), is all the more powerful because we’ve seen just how bad it all turned out. The friendship, not the space age, that is.
Today’s theatergoers may have become more sophisticated than their 1981 counterparts, or perhaps they’ve simply seen enough productions of The Last Five Years or Harold Pinter’s Betrayal to get Merrily’s reverse chronological structure. For whatever reason, Merrily We Roll Along just keeps rolling along…and has at last made it to the Chance.
You know you’re in for an Oanh Nguyen production from the moment you see Christopher Scott Murillo’s striking charcoal-and-black set. Three paneled walls, a covered grand piano upstage, and a piano bench. That’s all. A man, Franklin Shepard (Jeremy Fillinger) takes his seat at the piano, lifts the cover, and begins to play a tune. From behind the left and right panels (which turn out to be doors) emerge the six-member “Greek Chorus” who will be witnessing and participating in this journey back in time. Joining along in the title song, they begin circling Franklin, faster and faster, introducing a “rolling” motif which will be repeated throughout the evening.
George (Company) Furth’s biting book next takes us to Frank’s ritzy Bel Air mansion circa 1975, the first of Murillo’s effective projections giving us both the date and a clear sense of where we are. It’s party time, and in Sondheim’s words, Frank’s guests are “the movers” and “the shapers. These are the people who fill the papers,” and Franklin Shepard is one of them, a composer who has reached the top—but forgotten what it was that once inspired him. His longtime friend Mary Flynn (Amie Bjorklund) is there too, drunk as always and disgusted by Frank’s choice of friends and career. (The one-time Broadway composer has turned movie producer!) This party marks the end of Frank and Mary’s friendship (though perhaps not of her unrequited love for him), and the beginning of our trip back in time.
The year rolls back to 1973, and the location to a New York TV studio where Frank and his best friend and lyric-writing partner Charley Kringas (Ryland Dodge) are being interviewed about their collaboration, though it is clear from Charley’s rant about “Franklin Shepard Inc.” that these “Old Friends” can never again be “Like It Was.” (The quotation marks surround three of Sondheim’s best Merrily songs, first heard in this scene. Other memorable musical numbers include “Good Thing Going” and “Our Time.”)
As Merrily We Roll Along progresses, we meet the women in Franklin’s life. There’s first wife Beth Spencer (Liz Holt), the third member of his nightclub act with Charley back in Greenwich Village circa 1960, and second wife Gussie Carnegie (Laura M. Hathaway), the Broadway star he leaves Beth for and ends up cheating on. Other supporting characters include ambitious TV journalist K.T. (Alex Bueno), lawyer/deal maker Jerome (Kyle Cooper), aspiring screenwriter Ru (Andrew Eddins), and bigwig producer Joe (Richard Comeau).
In Nguyen’s vision, Bueno, Cooper, Eddins, Hathaway, Holt, and Comeau scarcely ever leave the stage, whether portraying the show’s many minor characters and walk-ons or observing/ignoring the action or sometimes just posing, as the best New York and Hollywood poseurs are so adept at doing.
Nguyen and whiz choreographer Kelly Todd keep this Greek Chorus busy indeed, manipulating the set’s only other props (a half dozen silver painted straight back chairs) into an astounding array of positions, alternately standing/sitting next to, behind, or upon them, all the while singing, dancing, and acting this role or that. It’s very surreal and very effective.
Following Harold Prince’s original concept, most of the nine-member cast appear to be somewhere in their early twenties, so that even when they are portraying 40somethings, we see them as they originally were, young and fresh and full of promise. The only exceptions are Fillinger and Comeau, and the latter’s character presumably starts out even older than the other characters end up, so the casting makes sense.
Fillinger, Dodge, and Bjorkland are precisely the kind of young character actors (as opposed to traditional leads) that their parts demand, and all three acquit themselves admirably, both as actors and as singers. Holt is particularly fine as Beth, singing the show’s most gorgeous ballad “Not A Day Goes By” with feeling and depth. Bueno, Cooper, Eddins, and Comeau are terrific in all their roles, especially Bueno as an oh-so full-of-herself “newswoman.” Most impressive of all is the dazzling Hathaway, who manages to convince us that this very young actress we see before us is a Broadway legend.
Music director Mike Wilkins appears to have overcome whatever opening night jitters may have affected his work in November’s Little Women. He does a fine job on piano (backed by Jonathan Proctor on flute, clarinet, and alto sax, and Cole Peterson on percussion), and the vocal harmonies of his cast are terrifically in sync.
In addition to Murillo’s set and projections, the stellar design team also includes KC Wilkerson’s striking lighting and Katie Schmidt’s snazzy black-and-white costumes.
With this excellent revival, Oanh Nguyen once again proves himself a master at making the very best of Sondheim. Perhaps what Broadway needs to finally get that hit production of Merrily We Roll Along is the right director. Mr. Sondheim, are you listening?
The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Through March 7. Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00, Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. Reservations: 714 777-3033 www.chancetheater.com
'A good thing going'
by Cris Gross, Theater Times
Merrily We Roll Along opened at The Chance Theater (where it continues through March 7) on the same day the most important theatrical partnership in Orange County history announced its expiration date. After 46 years, the team that led South Coast Repertory to national prominence signaled that the end of their road was in sight. By chance, up the freeway in Anaheim the young company that most recalls the more-talent-than-money promise of SCR’s storefront days was opening its 12th season – with the musical that follows a theater team back from national prominence to their days of more-talent-than-money promise.
In 1981, composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and librettist George Furth co-wrote the musical that came between Sondheim’s two most-inspired works – Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George. It was based on a 1934 George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play that showed the moral decline of a wealthy playwright by following his life backwards from age 40 through his successive sell-outs and compromises to end with the starry-eyed 20-year-old, ready to change the world through art.
In the Sondheim-Furth version, we move the play’s starting point to Hollywood in 1976, and move back into the bright days of the mid-‘50s. In Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen’s staging, the lights rise slowly on famous film producer Franklin Shepard (Jeremy Fillinger), in an obvious state of depression, slumped over his piano. As the rest of the ensemble emerges from panels in the sides of Christopher Scott Murillo’s elegantly simple set, carrying the metal chairs that will be the only other stage furniture, they sing the play’s central question: “How does it happen? How did you get so far off the track?”
The next two hours will show what happened, but not why. The answer is embedded in Franklin’s childhood and the American dream, and not really what interested the writers. “I love success,” he says at one point, and that's going to have to suffice. Instead, we follow the puzzle-loving Sondheim’s paradoxical reverse-narrative that shows Shepard acquiring greater character as he grows younger. In the process, he regains the close friends he jettisoned for fame – songwriting partner Charles Kringus (Ryland Dodge) and pal Mary Flynn (Annie Bjorklund). Mary, who quietly carried a torch for Franklin and is now a full-blown alcoholic (Dorothy Parker was Kaufman and Hart’s inspiration), has remained a friend, but is quick to lash out at him for his shallowness. Charlie no longer speaks to him.
In addition to the central trio, the showy roles are Beth (Franklin’s first wife, played by Liz Holt), and Gussie (Franklin’s second wife, played by Laura M. Hathaway). Fillinger is a solid Shepard. All have fine voices and know their characters. Fillinger and Holt have the best handle on singing-acting (finding the dramatic essence without overplaying). Alex Bueno makes the most of several tiny scenes, laying in comic bits that hit the top without going over.
The full cast is onstage for the entire show, watching attentively from their chairs along the sides, stepping in for speaking roles, or joining together as Greek chorus and filling the small, square stage with Kelly Todd’s spare but energetic choreography. The others are Kyle Cooper, Richard Comeau and Andrew Eddins. Katie Schmidt designed costumes that help tell the story: from the black-suited Franklin, to his pals in gray, to the women in black-and-white prints, etc. The clothes look great bathed in blues and purples of KC Wilkerson’s tasteful lighting design, while Murillo’s projections in the top back wall help establish location.
Given a structure that suggests people inevitably sacrifice their ideals for comfort and notoreity, we might be left leaving Merrily with a less-than-merry dose of cynicism. Surely Sondheim’s goal was something more uplifting, and here we get that. As the company ends the show singing “It’s our time, breathe it in,” they effectively turn the inverted story back around to make it current – about them, about us. We leave buoyed by their promise, with the sense of anticipation usually connected with the beginning of a show rather than its end. While this owes a great deal to the Sondheim magic, it’s exciting that Nguyen and company found it in this often misunderstood musical and took their time to share it so well.
'Merrily We Roll Along' more relevant than ever
by Sarah Moreau, Anaheim Hills News
The word "revival" can conjure images of frightening and delightful second chances at life. When a show has flat lined, so to speak, it is permanently associated with judgments on its potential long after the closing curtain.
It is a great challenge to bring a show back to the stage in a new way, perhaps solving some of the previous problems that led to its untimely end.
The Chance Theater has done just that with its latest production of the rarely produced musical gem, Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along."
"Merrily" is a musical reflection through time, following the main character from the late 70s to the late 50s. With the collective artistry of a talented group of innovative thinkers, the Chance Theater has created a captivating tale of friendship, art, and the price you pay for your dreams.
In this time of change in our country, "Merrily We Roll Along" is more relevant than ever.
Our nation must look back at the causes of our crumbling economy and our participation in global conflict so we may begin to formulate what happened and how best to move forward.
"Merrily We Roll Along" illustrates the journey, and provides a lot of fun along the way.
The original production featured nearly 20 actors, but in the tradition of previous musicals at the Chance, Artistic Director Oanh Nguyen utilizes an astonishingly talented cast of nine actors to tell the story in surprising new ways. The ensemble leads the narrative with creativity and humor, bringing the story to life as it has never been seen before. Accompanied by a three piece band, the actors are immaculate singers, and the music will stay with you long after the lights go down.
This is an exciting time at the Chance Theater as the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) have honored the Chance with six nominations for our 2009 production of "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical." Nguyen and choreographer Kelly Todd, both LADCC nominees, head the creative team of a musical for the first time since HAIR, and it's clear to see their award-worthy signature on this show.
Come out to see the first production of the Chance Theater's 2010 Season. "Merrily We Roll Along" runs through March 7. You don't want to miss it!
'Merrily We Roll Along'
by Ben Miles, Press-Enterprise
“Merrily We Roll Along” is the happy title of a 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. But it’s the 1981 musical of the same name, by that master of minor chord melancholy, Stephen Sondheim, that is the most remembered and revived of the two shows.
The Chance Theater, in Anaheim Hills is now offering a sturdy staging of this Sondheim (lyrics and music) and George Furth (book) musicalization of Kaufman and Hart’s conceit. Though the essential architecture of the original story remains intact, the Sondheim iteration is updated to a time span between 1957 and 1976.
The central character of “Merrily” is Frank Shepard (an earthy, vocally resonate Jeremy Fillinger). Frank, who made his mark as Broadway composer, has now moved on to produce Hollywood movies. But has his transplantation to a new career on the Left Coast been worth the toll it has taken on Frank in terms of abandoned friends and other relationships? Starting in 1976 at the height of Frank’s Tinsel Town success and fame, “Merrily” rolls backward in time displaying precious moments from Frank’s earlier life, along with the tumultuous upheavals that have also defined his existence, such as the dissolution of his second marriage to Gussie (played with she-devilish glee by alto Laura M. Hathaway).
Directed with much attention to the affective build-up of “Merrily We Roll Along,” Oanh Nguyen, along with choreographer Kelly Todd, carefully modulate the proceedings. While many musicals suffer from second-act laxity and lost momentum, here the opposite is in evidence: The show becomes tauter in act two.
With Mike Wilkens (on piano) lending musical direction to two other off-stage musicians (Jonathan Proctor doing flute/clarinet/sax, and Cole Peterson on percussion), Sondheim’s bittersweet score is boiled down to its emotional essentials. Song routines such as the title maker, “Merrily We Roll Along” encapsulate a lifetime of wise and world-weary reflection, while maintaining a moving, albeit cautious optimism about the future. In a delightful ditty called “Booby, Jackie and Jack,” Frank (Fillinger); his writing partner, Charley (a charmingly fluid Ryland Dodge); and, Frank’s first wife, Beth (an impressive Liz Holt), all pay a tongue-twisting tribute to the Kennedy clan. It’s both funny and nostalgic.
Nine Players in all—including Richard Comeau, as Joe; Alex Bueno, highlighting multiple roles; and, Annie Bjorklund in an attention-grabbing turn as drunken theater critic Mary Flynn—perform as the pros they prove themselves to be on Christopher Scott Murillo’s versatile scenic design and under his evocative projections of Manhattan’s cityscape and L.A.‘s sprawling hilltop vistas.
In two-acts, five scenes, and nearly a dozen-and-a-half song and dance routines—“Merrily We Roll Along” comes in at a running time of two hours and twenty minutes (with one intermission). It’s time well spent. What we witness in this Chance production of “Merrily” is what makes Sondheim musicals important contributions to the musical theater genre. While he creates drama and music drawn largely from his own professional and personal imagination and experience, Sondheim also has the astute ability to create from them themes and conflicts that are universal and transcendent.
“Merrily We Roll Along” continues at The Chance Theater—5552 La Palma Avenue, Anaheim Hills—through March 7. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Matinees are on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with Sunday evening shows at 7 p.m. On Thursday, February 25 and March 4, performances will begin at 8 p.m. For reservations, dial (714) 777 – 3033. For further information, visit www.chancetheater.com.
'Merrily We Roll Along' and 'Jesus Hates Me'
by Don Shirley, LA Stage Blog
I confess. I should have gone earlier to see the creations of Chance Theater, Orange County’s most consistent equivalent of L.A.’s many enterprising small companies. Last weekend, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the Chance had two productions up, both directed by artistic director Oanh Nguyen.
I saw my first Chance show not at Chance but at South Coast Repertory. It has provided its former Second Stage - now called the Nicholas Studio - as a venue for a brief remounting of Wayne Lemon’s Jesus Hates Me, a Chance hit from last year. South Coast is trying to cooperate more tangibly with smaller troupes in OC.
Jesus Hates Me is a Texas comedy - with punchy one-liners and a bitterness toward far-out religiosity that are reminiscent of the Del Shores sub-genre, and with an underlying melancholy reminiscent of the Horton Foote sub-genre (would someone please revive the Preston Jones comedies so I can remind myself of what his sub-genre was like?)
It’s about 25-year-old Ethan (a superbly natural Chance Dean) who lost his chance to get out of town when a bum knee tripped up his football career. He now finds himself trapped by his possibly suicidal mother, who runs Blood of the Lamb Miniature Golf, complete with Biblical decorations at each hole, including a manikin of Jesus at the 17th. A woman who runs a local bar and Ethan once had a fling, and she carries a torch. They seem to be on such good terms that it’s unclear why the romance never took off. Other ex-classmates are the local cop and an incorrigible doofus and reprobate.
It’s a lively production of a promising play, but frankly the script can’t hold a candle to the show I saw at Chance’s home base, the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along. Watching Nguyen’s rigorously but elegantly stripped-down production, it’s unfathomable that Merrily usually is considered one of Sondheim’s problem shows. It feels like a masterpiece, taking us on an engrossing journey of a three-way friendship from its dismal end backwards through 20 years to its hopeful beginning. Its depiction of the ravages of time is immensely moving.
The cast is wonderful and their ensemble work exceptionally well timed - even though the three leads (Jeremy Fillinger as Franklin Shepard, Ryland Dodge as Charley Kringas, Amie Bjorklund as Mary Flynn) are making their Chance debuts. Because this is in OC instead of LA county, with no applicable 99-Seat Theater Plan, the actors are non-Equity. But Chance managing director Casey Long told me that Chance pays more than the 99-Seat Plan would, although he declined to specify how much.
If South Coast is looking for another production to import from OC’s small theaters, Merrily We Roll Along should be a prime candidate. Would you believe that it has never been professionally staged in a full production above the 99-seat level in Los Angeles or Orange counties? Correct me if I’m wrong.
Jesus Hates Me, Chance Theater at South Coast Repertory Nicholas Studio, 655 Town Center Drive. Costa Mesa. Fri-Sat, 8 pm; Sat-Sun, 2:30 pm. Closes Sunday. 714-708-5555. www.scr.org.
Merrily We Roll Along, Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Thur-Fri, 8 pm; Sat, 3 and 8 pm; Sun, 2 and 7 pm. Closes Sunday. 714-777-3033. www.chancetheater.com.
'Merrily We Roll Along' and 'Jesus Hates Me'
by Shirle Gottlieb, Stage Happenings
If you're lucky enough to be free this weekend, have we got two winners for you. Both of them are Chance Theater productions and both of them are "must-sees" that you can't afford to miss.
The first one, "Merrily We Roll Along," is playing in Anaheim Hills at the home of the Chance Theater. The second one, "Jesus Hates Me," is a guest production on stage at South Coast Repertory. Once again we repeat, you cannot afford to miss them.
"Merrily We Roll Along" is another brilliant musical by Stephen Sondheim. In it he traces the painful journey of three old friends from the 1970s when they're adults, back to the 1950s when they were students. By contrast, "Jesus Hates Me" is a bawdy farce by Wayne Lemon. It will have you doubled-over with laughter at what you're watching, while you're cringing inside by what it actually means. How director Oanh Nguyen gets such spectacular results from such disparate material is a miracle. No matter how difficult or demanding, the Chance company somehow manages to put it across and make it strike home.
So hosannas and bouquets of flowers to everyone connected to Sondheim's paean to friendship, relationships, yearnings and lost dreams. And kudos to the crazy cast and crew of Lemon's gut-wrenching comedy.
First a few words about "Merrily We Roll Along." Under Nguyen's direction, a superb 9-member ensemble sings Sondheim's unforgettable lyrics, while his score is conducted by Mike Wilkins. Every movement is choreographed by Kelly Todd, the creative set design is by Christopher Scott Murillo, and the stage is enhanced by KC Wilkerson's lighting.
Looking back on "how did we get here from there" are Jeremy Fillinger as Franklin Shepard (the big shot who traded his talent for fame), Ryland Dodge as Charlie (the lyricist who never gave up on his dreams), and Amie Bjorklund as Mary (the good friend who self-destructed when she lost Frank to money and celebrity). Backing them up in a variety of parts are Alex Bueno, Laura Hathaway, Liz Holt, and Richard Comeau--each and everyone outstanding.
As for "Jesus Hates Me": Lemon's dramedy takes place in a small multi-racial town somewhere in Texas where "The Blood of the Lamb" miniature golf course is the only recreation around.
It's run by Annie, an emotionally disturbed woman (bi-polar perhaps?) who finds great comfort in Jesus; so she's nailed him to a cross on the 7th tee. The town-folk know that it's a cheap WalMart mannikin, but they all overlook it since everyone's crazy one way or another.
Once again Nguyen directs, and once again a fantastic cast handles difficult material with consummate skill. Under each character's outrageous behavior is a lonely soul--one who is lost and full of fear, or alienated and crying for help.
Karen Webster's portrayal of Annie deserves an award. Also excellent are Chance Dean as Ethan, her loving frustrated son; Timothy Covington, as the only Black police officer in the county; Dimas Dias as Boone, a crazy, out-of-control Mexican; Jennifer Ruckman as Lizzy, Ethan's high school sweetheart who still carries the torch for him; and Ben Green as Georgie, her brother who tried to commit suicide and missed.
Don't waste another minute. Call (714) 777-3033 now, or go on line and get tickets at www.chancetheater.com
'Merrily We Roll Along' @ The Chance Theater
by Terry Winkler, OC Family
Ever sit and wonder how the heck you got to where you are today? How did all the little twists and turns of friendships, romances, jealousies, commitments and maybe a betrayal or two lead you down the path that has become your ‘today’? That’s what central character, Frank Shepard, contemplates in the opening scene of The Chance Theater’s production of Merrily We Roll Along. “[The musical] is about friendships, relationships, hopes and dreams, the effect time has on them, and what happens when they’re not tended to,” explains Oanh Nguyen, Chance Theater Artistic Director.
My guess is most of you aren’t familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, but I bet you’d recognize one of its most famous songs, "Not a Day Goes By". Not ringing a bell? Well, since I don’t have a clip of Chance’s performance, feel free to click on over to youtube and listen to Bernadette Peters’ heart wrenching performance.
Wasn’t that something? Guess what. Liz Holt’s portrayal of Beth was just as poignant, as she performed this hauntingly beautiful song with a velvety voice and impressive acting chops. Some people are good singers, others are good actors. Holt is both. I hope we see her in more OC shows.
Liz wasn’t the only strong performer. Amie Bjorklund’s Mary Flynn was as complex a characterization I’ve ever seen in a musical. So glad I got to see her up close to witness her intricate nuances. Ryland Dodge as Charley was so likeable you just want to put him in your pocket and take him home. Jeremy Fillinger gave Frank Shepard just enough sensitivity so that the audience doesn’t despise him as he mangles every relationship he has. The ensemble was top notch, with Alex Bueno leading the charge with great comedic timing.
The set design was stark, dark and slightly resembled a jail cell with all its dark grey and black vertical lines, perhaps symbolizing how Frank’s choices throughout his adult life created a psychological prison of despair as he contemplated how he lost everyone who was important to him.
Merrily We Roll Along is not your average musical. It’s got bite and bark. It’s meaty instead of saccharine. Director, Nguyen, serves this musical feast in such appetizing doses that one relishes each bite and still wants more. Long after you’ve left the theater, you realize you’ve consumed these characters’ life stories. You’re satiated and ready to take on your own life with that addictive score playing on repeat in your head.
My only regret is that I didn’t see the show sooner so I could get people to go see it. If you’ve never been to the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills, you don’t know what you’re missing. Save your pennies for a babysitter and set up a date night. You can thank me later.
Made me rethink my Sondheim prejudices
posted by Jackie McKay on 3/1/10
This show made me rethink all my Sondheim predjudices.......fantastic show! Kudos all around!
The entire cast did an outstanding job
posted by Jo Thurber on 3/1/10
We loved "Merrily We Roll Along". The entire cast did an outstanding job. Something about being at the Chance for a show, you are transported elsewhere. This production was no exception. I was totally lost in the experience. It was however, long, and I do not see how anything could have been cut. Absolutely enjoyed it.
Second time back
posted by Linda Cooper on 3/1/10
Second time back to see Merrily. My husband and I really like the show! Keep up the great work!
posted by Robert Blitz on 3/1/10
I thought the musical was phenomenal. The singing by the lead female (amie bjorklund) was just incredible. She performed at a high level with super energy. We were truly impressed by the production - simple, elegant, yet quite classy. Overall - the show was outstanding and please support the theater!
We enjoyed the show
posted by David Furman on 2/24/10
Directing was very good,cast was very believable. We enjoyed the show.
Loved the show
posted by Virginia Thorne on 2/17/10
Loved the show. All were quite talented, and the Chance 1st timers were great! The staging was wonderful. Loved every minute of it!
The staging was awesome
posted by Donna Nelson on 2/16/10
I loved it! The staging was awesome. Great use of space. Music was fabulous. All the actors did a fantastic job.
posted by Linda Cooper on 2/16/10
My family thought it was great! Really fantastic. We will be attending the same show in a couple of weeks with some friends and family. See ya soon.
You feel like you are right in the show
posted by Carol Allen on 2/16/10
I had never been to the Chance Theater before I went to see Merrily We Roll Along. It is a very intimate space, and you feel like you are right in the show. The acting and singing were fabulous. I loved the way it was staged to show their life now, and then went backward, showing all the choices that the main character made to get to where he was at this point; his lowest. How each choice made affected the people he was supposed to have loved, but betrayed along the way. Great show. Well done!
I can not stop raving about it
posted by Kristin Towers-Rowles on 2/9/10
I had the absolute priviledge of seeing your production of "Merrily We Roll Along" last Sunday and I can not stop raving about it.
The direction and choreography were spot on. The musical direction, crisp and gorgeous. The cast, led by the golden voiced and magnetic Jeremy Fillinger, each strong in their own right and yet able to form a perfect ensemble to tell this touching, sometimes sad, but always thoughtful story. I really enjoyed the choice to keep Frank a likeable guy, even though we don't always like the choices he makes that change his life. We care about Mary and Charley and grieve, in reverse, the loss of their once-a-dreamer friend.
All of the supporting cast were so strong - no one dropping, even for a second, the intensity and tension created by their asking "How Does It Happen?"
What I particularly appreciated was that while being a musical, it never stopped being a play with music. I never felt like it stopped telling the story or the thru line just because a song had begun. It moved, well, "merrily."
I hope that this production receives all of the raves and accolades it deserves. Your theatre is an oasis of artistic expression in a sea of theatres doing whatever commercially can keep them afloat. As a performer and a theatre lover, we in Southern California salute you, The Chance, on continuing to take so many chances.