Merrily We Roll Along October 9-11, 8 p.m., $25. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.
Merrily We Roll Along is one of Sondheim’s “problem” musicals. The show starts at the bitter end—disfigurement, divorce, betrayals—and unspools backwards in time to show how three great friends got to such a miserable place. This play has undone many directors and, apparently, it got the better of Andrew Wright, too. Under his direction, Off Strip Productions’ version simply doesn’t work.
The stage pictures in almost every number are a mess. The large cast mills around without form, or is squeezed into a small playing space in front of the curtain, forced to give way to let other people pass. They’re not served by the lighting design, which leaves them far too often in the dark (no lighting designer was listed in the program, and it certainly looked as if that was the case). And they’re not served by Mike Olsen’s set, which places the band upstage, compressing the small stage even further. The actors also don’t seem to all be in the same play, with some playing it straight, others going for histrionics and still others camping it up—like Rich Benites doing his best Ron Burgundy impression. (That wasn’t a compliment.) The show had minimal, drab choreography (courtesy of Callie Schouten, Greg Kata and Sammie Hickson), but even that was performed sloppily.
Among the three leads, Glenn Heath (as Frank) seemed tentative in his performance and could have been pushed a little further in his choices, while Kim Glover also could have used stronger direction to rein in her rendition of Mary. Ayler Evan stood out with good, true-to-character comic work as Charley, and his rendition of “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” was hysterical. But none of the three were in their finest voice the night I saw the show.
By the end of the second act—when the three leads are back to their early 20s in age and working their tails off to catch a break, jumping between day jobs and nights at bars, and a stagehand clumsily pushed a cheap-looking bar set piece onto the stage for the chorus of their song—the audience laughed, but not in a good way. You felt for the actors … but not the characters.