By Tara DeLorenzo
What happens when you’ve gotten everything you could ever dream of — and success becomes hollow because there’s no one left to share it with? Merrily We Roll Along looked into that problem as it took the stage of the Yvonne Theater April 23-27.
This Stephen Sondheim musical was directed by assistant professor of performing arts Nathan Hurwitz. The musical travels backwards through the life of Franklin Shepard (sophomore Colby Dezelick), a gifted composer who works to become a Hollywood producer, while losing his most treasured friends and ideals in the process.
Dezelick stepped into a role that seemed made for him as he took the stage as Frank. The first scene transports the audience to 1976 at a party thrown in honor of Frank’s new movie. Everyone is commending him for his success and wonderful demeanor, yet it seems no one truly cares for Frank. That is, no one except his oldest friend Mary Flynn (sophomore Emma Rose Brooks), who has turned into a bitter alcoholic, and his wife Gussie Carnegie (senior Carolina Sanchez), who is a scornful and vain Broadway star.
Franklin seems to have everything anyone could ever want, but his life turns out to be nothing but empty, as everyone uncaringly flutters by. Dezelick captured the raw hatred that Frank has developed for his life and was able to depict a man drowning in the dream he thought he wanted.
The play then moves back to 1973 and Frank’s partner, Charley Kringas (sophomore Matthew Fairlee) is introduced. The two are in the NBC Studio doing an on-air interview when Charley, fed up with Frank’s busy lifestyle, attacks Frank through lyrics.
The song “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” is one of the many standouts from the musical. Fairlee did an extraordinary job of capturing his character’s emotions in a frantic, fast-paced song that represents Charley’s breaking point. He is on a blind rant as the song goes on, explaining how all Frank has been doing is putting everyone in his life on hold, as he climbs the ladder to his shallow success. The conclusion of the song, as Charley is faced with what he just did and Frank gives his two cents, is where Fairlee and Dezelick shined. Both were so honest and powerful in their emotions — Fairlee playing a man immediately filled with regret and Dezelick portraying a man with wounded pride.
From there, the play moves to 1968 and shows one of the first major shifts that pushes Frank’s dream off-track. Upon Frank’s arrival, he is surprised by Mary and Charley, and the audience is presented with another show-stopping number with the song “Old Friends.” Dezelick, Brooks and Fairlee harmonized wonderfully and were able to portray the playfulness that was required for the song. Brooks had wonderful range throughout the song and Dezelick had strength and grace behind his every movement.
The playful nature of the scene shifted with the entrance of Gussie. Sanchez did a fantastic job of capturing the star quality behind her character. Gussie is superficial and materialistic. She knows she is a star and expects to be treated as such. Sanchez became that alluring star as her character makes Frank choose between her and his friends. Dezelick gave his character such depth, as Frank is no longer the power-hungry man from previous scenes, but instead just a dreamer, wistfully searching for the right move. Dezelick’s goose bump-inspiring singing voice stood out in his section of “Growing Up,” where his internal conflict becomes clear.
The play further breaks down through Frank’s bitter divorce with Beth (sophomore Lilli Babb), where Dezelick transformed his character into a man in turmoil because his lifestyle destroyed his family. Babb was incredibly relatable as Beth, as she leaves Frank, even though it breaks her heart.
Time further regresses to show Charley and Frank’s first opening night and their humble modesty. Fairlee and Dezelick both depicted such exuberant happiness in the scene, making everyone in the audience want to root for these characters, even after seeing how far they had fallen from their dreams. Fairlee had a great quality to his voice and Dezelick had a raw honesty behind his want to succeed.
The play follows the first celebrity party that Charley, Frank, Beth and Mary attend, hosted by Gussie and her husband, Broadway producer Joe Josephson (junior Travis Przybylski). Here it is revealed what fame has done to Gussie, as the audience discovers that she changed everything about her appearance so she could make it into the spotlight. Again, Sanchez shined in the role with her regal attitude.
The musical also looked into Frank’s wedding day, where the standout of the scene was Mary. With Brook’s portrayal, the audience became teary-eyed, as she played the role of a woman watching the man she loves marry someone else. Her singing in “Not A Day Goes By (reprise)” was heart-breakingly beautiful and stood in contrast to that of Dezelick’s and Babb’s.
Time reverses so far as to look at the day Frank and Charley met Mary — the day they decided to become partners. This final scene took place in 1957, almost 20 years prior to the opening scene. Instead of a lavish party, it is on the rooftop of an apartment building. Here it shows the dreams that Frank and Charley had: with Frank as composer and Charley as writer, they were going to take Broadway by storm.
The partnership and chemistry between Fairlee and Dezelick was perfectly cast. Fairlee was able to add a great touch of humor to the scene and create a version of Charley that was strong and humble. Dezelick was able to capture the wonder of young Frank.
Each transition of the years was done through the singing by the ensemble accompanied by newspaper clippings and pictures of the cast projected to the stage to show how the characters changed. The sets were intricately done to range from lavish parties to a simple apartment to a downtown club.
The play looks at the power of dreams versus reality. It is a cautionary tale of understanding desires and ambitions and how, sometimes, things can go astray. Between the talented ensemble and the outstanding leads, the audience was able to see how crazy life can get.
Merrily We Roll Along is a reminder of how easily we can get caught up in life and how even if all of our dreams come true, success is nothing without people to share it with.
Printed in the 4/30/14 edition.