Theatre Review: “Merrily We Roll Along” @ Huntington Theatre Company, 09/13/17

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It’s been three days since I saw Merrily We Roll Along, and I’m still speechless.

Before even reading this, go and buy tickets to see it at Huntington Theatre Company. I’m serious; Just do it.

First off, this should transfer to Broadway this season.

If they produced it in the right Broadway house — something small and intimate, it would sell all the tickets and possibly win all the awards. Maria Friedman’s vision as director is impeccable. It’s literally perfect — every moment, every cue — every damn thing. I just don’t know how the show could have been directed any better. It’s incredibly beautiful the way she tells the story to give clarity to a very complex story that’s told from the end to the beginning.

It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Combine that smart direction by Friedman with Matthew Stern’s musical direction and you have a perfect combination. This is, by far, one of the best musically directed shows I have ever seen on the regional level. Stern’s thoughtful work entered every phrase, melody and lyric — it’s stunning. The company’s tight harmonies and cohesive stylistic vocal choices were impeccable. My jaw was on the floor. I would love to work with Stern in the future, because it was a master class in musical direction.

And speaking of master class: Damian Humbley’s portrayal of Charles Kringas and his Act 1 meltdown in “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” was remarkable. This song is probably one of Sondheim’s hardest patter songs and Humbley found, and committed to, every nuance, beat, and phrase. It brought the house down. I’m still in awe thinking about it. I’d buy a ticket just to see him perform that again.

But don’t forget about Eden Espinosa… (!!!) You don’t even understand what a beautifully honest and tragic portrayal of Mary she’s giving. It is a Tony Award-winning performance and I was completely blown away by it. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Espinosa in WickedBkyln, her cabaret concert in San Francisco, and most recently a concert reading at NAMT last year.

This is her BEST work, by a million miles.

Espinosa is deeply vulnerable on stage — down to her core — so that even thinking about her singing “Old Friends – Like it Was” gives me chills. Her voice is beautifully unique on this and it’s everything. I hope that she gets the opportunity to show New York the work she is doing in this, because it needs to be seen and heard.

Finally, Mark Umbers as Franklin Shepard is the glue that holds the show together. His backwards transformation from the beginning to end was incredible. You don’t realize the amazing acting he is doing until you see the final scene and song, “Our Time”. There are so many layers to him and it’s a beautiful process to see each one peeled off. He did an extraordinary job.

Jennifer Ellis (Beth) and Amiee Doherty (Gussie Carnegie) also give stand-out performances respectively. Surrounding these five characters, you have a phenomenal ensemble that is just as strong in their respective characters. You can see how beautifully the cast works together — their synergy is palpable to the audience. Also, the costume and scenic design by U.K. based designer, Soutra Gilmour, is perfection.

I don’t know if I’m ready to describe the personal journey I went through when I saw this but I will tell you that was unbelievably healing for me. There’s magic happening at Huntington Theatre Company right now.

36 years after it flopped on Broadway, it’s finally getting the perfect production it deserves.

Writing this has just convinced me that I need to see it this again. So, excuse me, while I go and buy all the tickets…

 

 

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