Merrily We Roll Along gets thrilling West End revival

May 7, 2013

Sondheim's one-time Broadway flop about showbiz now hailed as one of the great musicals

What you need to know
A revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Merrily We Roll Along has transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London's West End following a successful run at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012.

Sondheim's 1981 musical, with a book by George Furth, is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It follows the story of three showbiz pals in reverse, from the cynical 1970s to naïve 1950s, as they reflect on their inglorious careers.

Stage and television actress Maria Friedman makes her debut as director. Mark Umbers, Damian Humbley and Jenna Russell star as the showbiz trio. Until 27 July.

What the critics like
Friedman's production is sharp and sassy, thanks to the extraordinary chemistry between Umbers and Humbley, and the sublime Russell, says Tim Walker in the Sunday Telegraph. "Showbusiness has seldom, if ever, showed itself up quite so honestly and hilariously."

This is a superlative staging of one of the great musical productions of any era, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. "The show is a rare combination of the thoughtful and the thrilling. Go."

Friedman's enormous achievement is to "play it soft but make it sting", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. It's packed with lots of ideas about growing up, but the show keeps us suspended in "a glorious bubble of wit and regret".

What they don't like
Sondheim's musical is a flawed diamond that originally flopped on Broadway, says Lyn Gardner in The Guardian. It's a thrilling evening, but "the show's hard and cynical portrayal of the characters makes it easier to admire than love".

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