Review: Merrily We Roll Along

GAV1967 — AUGUST 28, 2015

"Hill has the matinee idol good looks, together with a golden voice. It’s not surprising to read that he’d just returned from a touring company of Cats. Hill was brilliant as Frank, from the successful cocky Frank, to the Franks full of doubt, and the dreamer Frank"

Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in November 1981 and closed November 1981 after only 16 performances. I saw the original Australian production in 1996 with Tom Burlinson, Tony Sheldon, Peta Toppano and Gina Riley. I remembered thinking it was a very complicated musical. Since then, there have been umpteen rewrites, and this current production is much slicker and much more accessible than I remember the 1996 production to be.

Merrily is basically a show told in reverse. It centres on three friends and the journey their friendship has had to endure over the twenty odd years. We start off at Frank’s celebration party, where he is now a successful film producer, and we see Mary who is obviously now an alcoholic and a wreck. Absent is the third friend Charlie, who apparently had a falling out with Frank after a television interview. This sets us up for the next two and a half hours, as we find out, ‘how did they get to be here, what was the moment?’

JYM Theatre Company have a lot of courage in producing this rarely seen Sondheim musical. It was with trepidation I ventured down to Elwood to see what they had done with this Sondheim gem.

Once I heard the first few bars of the overture, I knew I was in for a special night. Phillip Seeton has his orchestra sounding great. Even though the brass were at the back of the stage behind a sound barrier and everyone else was cramped into the pit, it somehow worked. The sound was even and constant throughout the show. Marcello Lo Ricco, the go-to guy for sound, once again did an amazing job. Everyone was heard when needed and the sound was crystal clear. It really makes a difference when you’ve been rehearsing for months and you have a great sound person to carry the show into the theatre.

Director Pip Mushin knew what he wanted for this production and I’d say, on the whole, he achieved it. The characterisations for each and every cast member were well thought-out, and this paid off big time for the cast. The use of the space was also great, from the flashy Hollywood sign in the beginning to the roof tops at the end of the show, each flowed really well with the help of some sliding screens.

Brendy Ford’s choreography suited each time period appropriately, and was well within the means of the cast who executed the moves extremely well. Ford’s chorey was matched scene for scene with excellent costuming, especially the 60’s which looked fantastic!

The cast consisted of an ensemble of seventeen, who were constantly at work. The main part of the ensemble flowed into different roles in each section easily. Soren Adkin, the youngest member of the ensemble, played Franklin Shepard Jr. and had a very tuneful singing voice for one so young.

Liana Brener and Nick Bakstorm played married couple Joe Johnson and Gussie Carnegie. While both sold their respective parts extremely well, they both unfortunately also had pitching issues, which took away from their roles.

Jen Bush played Franklin’s first wife Beth, and while she had an amazing singing voice, I wasn’t totally sold in her love for Franklin.

Partrick Hill, Jonathan Goldberg and Stephanie John were all perfectly cast as Franklin, Charlie and Mary.

Hill has the matinee idol good looks, together with a golden voice. It’s not surprising to read that he’d just returned from a touring company of Cats. Hill was brilliant as Frank, from the successful cocky Frank, to the Franks full of doubt, and the dreamer Frank.

Goldberg matched Hill in his performance and the TV interview was one of the highlights of the show. I believe that, at times, the frustration of Charlie could have been amplified, but this is just nit-picking at a great performance.

I’m not sure why I haven’t seen Stephanie John perform before, but I’ll be sure following her closely from now. It was a pure delight to watch John effortlessly attack the difficult Sondheim score and to traverse from an alcoholic in her 40’s to the naive Mary when she first bumped into Frank and Charlie. John has a natural gift with her acting and her voice is beautiful.

Pip Munshin must have been thanking his lucky stars to have this trio all audition.

All in all, this is a great production of a rarely performed gem. Don’t miss the opportunity in seeing this production – who knows when it will be around again!

Merrily We Roll Along is playing at the Phoenix Theatre Elwood until September 5 and tickets can be booked at

15 June, 2014


Review: Phantom of the Opera (CLOC)

Simon Parris, 11 May 2013

"Patrick Hill is a dashingly handsome Raoul, singing the role with natural flair"

The show we all imagined would never make it to the amateur stage is here, and it is a success of the highest order.

CLOC’s mighty achievement is a production that is spectacular in scale whilst simultaneously being intimate in detail. Reaching new heights in technical achievement, the production lands the iconic moments of the well-known show, and brings the beloved characters to life with the cream of Melbourne’s non-professional performing talent.

In financial terms, Melbourne theatre has come full circle, with a ticket to this production of Phantom costing the same amount as the Australian premiere in 1990. After only five minutes of this staging, audiences will already feel like they have had their $50 worth, with the stage is ablaze with lavish sets, costumes and wigs, not to mention a massive cast of 34, for the Opera Populaire’s production of Hannibal. Act two’s Masquerade Ball opening is even more eye-popping.

Given that this is the first new stage production of Phantom since the long-running original, there is a touch of disappointment that a more innovative design was not attempted. In following the original, however, CLOC has certainly succeeded, raising amateur theatre to a new stratosphere of achievement. While the famous chandelier is perhaps the only element that is prohibitively difficult to fully re-create, other iconic moments are all here: Hannibal’s trumpeting elephant, the roof of the Paris Opera house, the Phantom’s grisly make up, the automated monkey music box and, in a moment guaranteed to provide a few tingles, the mist and multiple flickering candelabra of the magical boat ride to the Phantom’s underground lair.

A particular improvement to the original staging in Brenton Staples’ design is the elaborately ornate false proscenium, opera boxes and all, which is thankfully unsullied by the usual black speakers and lighting bars. It is all too easy to take the design for granted, so smoothly do the elements glide in and out, yet the scale and the attention to detail are nothing short of extraordinary. The massive bridge and stairs to the Phantom’s lair are seen for barely a couple of minutes. Scenes such as the masked ball, Christine’s dressing room, and the managers’ office have been expertly outfitted by Crisanne Fox and her stage dressing team.

Director Chris Bradtke again demonstrates his inestimable worth as a keenly sought after stage master for the big budget premieres. Bradtke displays his trademark flair for directing the technical aspects in conjunction with the human performers to achieve a fluid, cohesive whole. Storytelling is first rate, and while the central love triangle sputters a little between Christine and Raoul, there is palpable chemistry between the Phantom and Christine.

Nerissa Saville’s costumes are sumptuously lavish and beautifully made. Carlotta’s incredible outfits alone would quickly chew through the budget of a regular production. Attention to detail is evident in trimmings such as the layers of men’s vests, ties and jackets and the women’s bonnets. Whilst the ballet outfits for Hannibal are a little unflattering, the gossamer-light white floral set for Il Muto are exquisite. David Wisken’s wigs add to the quality of production. Carlotta and Mme Giry have particularly impressive hair stylings, while Meg’s peroxide blonde curls are a little hard on the eye.

Music director Andy McAlman leads a magnificent orchestra of 27 players, the same size used in the Australian premiere. (For the 2007 return tour the orchestra was reduced to 16.)

Whilst adding plenty of atmosphere, lighting, by Stelios Karagiannis, is a little bright at times, taking some of the mystery out of the Phantom’s appearances. There are moments where lighting could better aid the audience to know where to look.

Marcello Lo Ricco’s masterful sound design achieves the incredible effects of the original in making it seem that the Phantom is calling from various points of the auditorium. The immersive and engaging sound design features pristine vocals and a lush orchestral sound.

Toby Truscott shines in the title role, singing the high tenor notes with ease and imbuing the songs with the requisite sadness and longing. Opening night nerves may be to blame for a lack of breath which cut short the final note of “Music of the Night” before the dissonant chords reached their resolve, but this is sure to be smoothed out as the season progresses. Truscott’s performance of the Phantom’s passion and agony in “Past The Point of No Return” is a most affecting high point.

Laura Slavin gives a breakout performance as Christine, singing and acting the role as well, or better, than actresses in professional productions around the world. Slavin presents Christine as strong and yet endearingly vulnerable, easily engaging the audience’s affection and admiration. Her singing of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” absolutely brings down the house, and her acting in “Past the Point of No Return” and the subsequent finale is excellent. Technical achievements of the production aside, Slavin is a major reason to see this show.

Samantha Du Rennes is a standout as the haughty Carlotta, singing the role with authentic operatic intensity and portraying Carlotta’s bitchy arrogance with a delightful sparkle in her eye. Beryle Frees is a forbidding and mysterious Madame Giry, totally believable as the powerful but terrified ballet mistress.

Patrick Hill is a dashingly handsome Raoul, singing the role with natural flair.

Scott Hili and Tim Minturn bring the only snatches of humour for the night as the colourful theatre managers Firmin and Andre. Lucinda Barratt, a strong singer and dancer, effectively captures Meg’s wide-eyed naivety and fear.

Some tickets remain for the season of The Phantom of the Opera. Lovers of the show will thrill at CLOC’s achievements. Newcomers will be absolutely blown away.

The Phantom of the Opera ( continues at National Theatre, St Kilda until 25 May 2013. Photos: Carlos Ramirez

This review written for Theatre People ( 11 May 2013