Merrily We Roll Along

Previewed 23 April 2013, Opened 1 May 2013, Closed 27 July 2013 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A major revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along in London featuring Mark Umbers, Damian Humbley, Jenna Russell and Josefina Gabrielle and directed by Maria Friedman.

Set over three decades in the entertainment business Merrily We Roll Along charts the turbulent relationship between three friends Franklin, Charley and Mary. Starting in 1980 and travelling backwards in time, this powerful and moving story features some of Sondheim's most beautiful songs including Good Thing Going, Not a Day Goes By and Old Friends.

The cast for Merrily We Roll Along stars Mark Umbers as 'Franklin Shepard', Jenna Russell as 'Mary Flynn', Damian Humbley as 'Charley Kringas' and Josefina Gabrielle as 'Gussie Carnegie' along with Matthew Barrow, Martin Callaghan, Clare Foster, Glyn Kerslake, Amanda Minihan, Kirk Patterson, Amy Ellen Richardson, Ashley Robinson, Robbie Scotcher, Zizi Strallen, Joanna Woodward (Casting subject to change). The production is directed by Maria Friedman with choreography by Tim Jackson, designs by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by David Hersey and sound by Gareth Owen. Merrily We Roll Along features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim with book by George Furth based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. This production was originally staged at the Menier Chocolate Factory where it played an extended season from November 2012 to March 2013. Stephen Sondheim's West End credits include Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Pacific Overtures, Saturday Night, West Side Story and Side by Side by Sondheim.

"The usual accusation against composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim - that he's a cold- hearted clever-clogs - is disproved in this revival of bittersweet merriment that was a flop back in 1981. Life, compromise and money are the enemies of promise for three gifted friends for whom success proves a mouthful of ashes... The lyrics are witty and serrated, the songs poignant, and the cast, dressed in a riot of 1970s kitsch, is lovingly directed by the actress-singer Maria Friedman. It's that rare thing - a musical with a heart and a high IQ." The Mail on Sunday

"You can see why Merrily We Roll Along wasn't a smash when it premiered in 1981. Midlife Crisis: The Musical is never going to hook mass audiences. The show was fixed in 1985 and has gradually gathered admirers since. What hasn't been fixed is Furth's hectoring book, which hobbles the show and groans under excess information. The songs, though, are superbly supple: seductive, confused, layered... Friedman has cast the show beautifully - her chorus aren't svelte and starry-eyed, but lumpy, bumpy and human. Every sung moment in this show is beautifully alive. The dialogue scenes, however, are in danger of flatlining, and the show lacks a visual intelligence. Actors are plonked in lines across the stage... The glory of Friedman's revival is the musical performances, in particular from the central trio." The Sunday Times (November 2012)

"It seems hard to believe - though, granted, it isn't flawless - that Merrily We Roll Along bombed when first staged in the US. The journey towards a sad yet simultaneously happy ending is cleverly engineered, as is the counterbalancing of sentiment with satirical digs at the tosh-touting end of the entertainment industry. Maria Friedman's revival, her debut as a director, proves terrifically assured. It is technically polished, with retro chic, remarkably fluid scene changes on a long, narrow stage, and perfectly gauged amplification." The Observer (November 2012)

"A marvellous interpreter of Stephen Sondheim's work in her capacity as a singer and an actress, Maria Friedman now makes her directorial debut and does the composer proud with a thrillingly assured account of one of his most intractably tricky - and rewarding - shows... Friedman doesn't quite solve the problem that Sondheim's music and lyrics are in a different league from George Furth's clunking, preachy dialogue, or that the show's conception of integrity is somewhat clichéd. But her production is electrically alive to the lacerating wit and layered irony with which the score, through a brilliant counter-clockwise use of reprise, teases out the painful implications of the fact that, as Kierkegaard put it, 'life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.'" The Independent (November 2012)

"Although the sharp juxtapositions of optimism and disillusionment can sting. As the layers of cynicism are peeled away, it's impossible not to be moved by the wide-eyed wonderment of the principals - Franklin and his friends Mary and Charley - as three tender young idealists emerge from the hardened shells of their midlife selves and arrive back at the primal scene of youthful hopefulness on a New York rooftop in 1957. Maria Friedman's superb production finds poignancy and heart in Sondheim's ever-clever score and revels in the waspish humour of George Furth's book. The opening scene is a magnificently sour bitchfest, led by Jenna Russell's Mary, booze-bloated and longing for Mark Umbers's Franklin, while Damian Humbley's geeky Charley delivers a show-stealing assault on his commercially ambitious pal in the number Franklin Shepard, Inc. Thirty years on and much revised, Sondheim's famous flop is turning into a sleeper hit." The London Metro (November 2012)

Mark Umbers' West End credits include playing the role of 'Jim O'Connor' with Jessica Lange as 'Amanda Wingfield' in Rupert Goold's revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (Apollo Theatre 2007) and the role of 'Freddy Eynsford-Hill' with Martine McCutcheon as 'Eliza Doolittle' and Jonathan Pryce as 'Professor Henry Higgins' in Trevor Nunn's revival of the Lerner and Lowe musical My Fair Lady (National Theatre 2001).

Jenna Russell's recent West End credits include playing the role of 'The Baker's Wife' in Timothy Sheader's revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods (Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park 2010), the role of 'Amy' opposite Felicity Kendal as 'Esme' in Peter Hall's revival of David Hare's play Amy's View (Garrick Theatre 2007), the role of 'Sarah' opposite Ewan McGregor as 'Sky Masterson' in Michael Grandage's revival of the Frank Loesser musical comedy Guys and Dolls (Piccadilly Theatre 2005) and the role of 'Dot' opposite Daniel Evans as 'Georges' in Sam Buntrock's revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Sunday in the Park with George (Wyndham's Theatre 2005).

Josefina Gabrielle's London stage credits include Matthew Wright's revival of the Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields musical Sweet Charity (Haymarket Theatre 2010) and the role of one of the witches along with Joanna Riding and Rebecca Thornhill, opposite Clarke Peters as 'Darryl van Horne' in Eric Schaeffer's production of the John Dempsey and Dana Rowe musical The Witches of Eastwick (Prince of Wales Theatre 2001).

This production marks Maria Friedman's West End theatre directing debut. Her recent London acting credits include the role of 'Anna' opposite Daniel Dae Kim as 'The King' in Jeremy Sams' large scale 'in-the-round' revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I (Royal Albert Hall 2009), playing opposite Michael Crawford in the original cast of Trevor Nunn's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Woman in White (Palace Theatre (2004) and the role of 'Sukie Rougemont', one of the three witches along with Lucie Arnaz and Joanna Riding opposite Ian McShane as 'Darryl Van Horne' in Eric Schaeffer's production of the John Dempsey and Dana Rowe musical The Witches of Eastwick (Theatre Royal Drury Lane 2000). Maria Friedman staged her highly acclaimed concert show Maria Friedman Re-arranged at the Trafalgar Studios in 2009.

Merrily We Roll Along in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 23 April 2013, opened on 1 May 2013 and closed on 27 July 2013.