Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Merrily We Roll Along (Broadway)


Franklin Shepard (Jonathan Groff) has reached the pinnacle of success, crossing over from Broadway to Hollywood as a renowned songwriter. However, his triumphs have not come without a cost, and the biggest price he had to pay was losing friends and family along the way. First to go was Charley Kringas (Daniel Radcliffe), one half of their formidable musician/lyricist duo who started off auctioning their plays on the Great White Way. Trying hard to be the supportive confidante, Mary Flynn (Lindsay Mendez) also calls it quits as she delves deeper into being an alcoholic and no longer expecting her friend to reciprocate her unrequited love. As Franklin experiences another heartache in spite of his status as man of the hour, he takes a trip down memory lane, cherishing the moments when life was so much simpler and their trio did not have much except for a dream they thought they would all pursue together.

I expected this to be a three-man show, which it actually is. Perhaps, my gripe has more to do with the division of exposure. While the musical does revolve around the three main characters, the focus is undeniably on Frank. We do get to hear about Charley’s modest family or Mary’s bestseller book, but most of the sets are in Frank’s world. In short, the musical is set in Frank’s universe and the other two just live in it to support him.

This does not mean, though, that Groff has a monopoly of the audience’s attention. If anything, the focus on him allows both Radcliffe and Mendez to steal his thunder several times. In fact, that afternoon’s most applauded musical number was Radcliffe’s rendition of Franklin Shepard, Inc. The applause went on for too long that the actors looked like they had to improvise a bit while waiting for the clapping to die down. As such, it is safe to say that Radcliffe is probably going to be in contention for a Tony next year.

As for Groff, he does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to acting given the script’s focus on his character. He does sing with the other two but it feels like he is more of an actor than a singer in this musical. As for Mendez who already has a Tony under her belt, the way her character is written does not seem to allow much leeway for her to display any hardcore acting given how Mary always tends to come out on stage drunk. Her witty one-liners are the life of the party, though, never failing to evoke laughter from the audience.

Merrily We Roll Along is an ode to friendship: the kind that might endure; the type that could wither; that which you eventually outgrow. With the plot unfolding backwards, you get to see the deconstruction of that friendship as the trio jumps back a few years each time to give you a glimpse of what once was and how it would all end up. The execution is brilliant because it piques your curiosity. It also comes across as depressing despite all the song and dance. After all, we’ve all experienced dying friendship at least once, and it is never easy.

Such is life, though. If marriage could not last forever, what more friendship, right? In the end, that’s really just the simple message that this play is trying to convey. People come and go. You won’t be able to hold onto them forever for the mere fact that everyone changes. The abundance of narratives of this type just reinforces the point. While people and the relationships we have with them do not last a lifetime, the memories and our experiences with them do. Sad and poignant, but c’est simplement la vie.

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