Roll with it: Our review of 'Merrily We Roll Along'

Vixen-like character Gussie (played by Nikki) seducing the unassuming and conflicted Frank (Peter Ong) in a steamy scene in Merrily We Roll Along.

Vixen-like character Gussie (played by Nikki) seducing the unassuming and conflicted Frank (Peter Ong) in a steamy scene in Merrily We Roll Along.

Do you control fame? Or does fame control you? Merrily We Roll Along tackles this very issue.

Aloft. That’s the word. And a forced solitude. The unfortunate twins begot of fame. The sad aftermath for those who let rolling successes get to their heads.

Rash decisions are made. Friends and family lose their value and worth. Carnality takes the seat on the throne of the heart. Loneliness becomes a friend and suddenly, nothing is worth it anymore. The joy and merrymaking of the yesteryear with one’s closest friends are gone.

That is exactly what Franklin Shepard learns, rather bitterly, in his rise to fame as a Hollywood music composer.

And when nostalgia kicks in, just like Franklin, the audience in the musical Merrily We Roll Along will see how things were so much simpler at the beginning.

Presented by local outfit Pan Productions and directed by Nell Ng, this Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and George Furth (book) musical is replete with haunting melodies, thumping numbers and most importantly a story that is true to the heart. 

Merrily, which is showing at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre now, tracks the story of three best friends, Franklin Shepard (Frank), Charley Kringas and Mary Flynn – played by Peter Ong, Aaron Teoh and Chang Fang Chyi respectively – in their pursuit of becoming successful writers and composers. Along the way, the seams of the friendship begin to unravel, while clandestine affairs ruin marriages and fametakes over.

But what’s fascinating with Merrily is that the story begins with the end, when Frank is at the height of his fame. It moves backward, telling in reverse a bittersweet tale. And instead of taking the joy ride to the top only to plunge into despair, the audience gets to unload along the way as things get from dreary to merry.

Ng’s directing proves to be effective and powerful. The story is a very human one, which captures both the beauty and ugliness of relationships. The set at KLPac is devoid of grand trappings.You get to zero in instead on the characters.

The principal cast, helmed by Ong, Teoh and Chang, were outstanding during last Saturday’s show. It was indeed a joy to watch these actors embody their characters to the fullest. Ong was amazing as the conflicted Frank. He effortlessly traced the emptiness and innocent aspirations of his character. Teoh, who plays Frank’s dearest buddy and fellow dreamer Charley, was endearing and there was a certain charisma about the emerging actor that will keep you affixed on him. Playing the rose among the thorns is Chang who delivered the punch lines with comedic precision and filled the stage with her larger-than-life persona.

The hopeful trio all set to dream big and make it big in the world of Hollywood
Starry-eyed: The hopeful trio – Aaron Teoh, Peter Ong and Chang Fang Chyi – all set to dream big and
make it big in the world of Hollywood in Merrily We Roll Along.

The trio shared a genuine and infectious chemistry on stage.

Elsewhere, Stephanie Van Driesen, who plays Frank’s wife Beth, hammered home the Not A Day Goes By tune with such vigour and raw melancholy. Her voice was truly haunting. But the one person who stole the show has to be the sultry vixen Gussie Carnegie, played by the talented Nicolette Palikat. Fondly known as Nikki, the relatively new musical actor was a force to be reckoned with. Her seductive eyes, bewitching beauty and magnetic voice not only captivated the unassuming Frank, but this writer as well.

As for the tunes, the musical numbers in Merrily were slow and stretched out at the start. But you couldn’t help but get trapped in the clutches of the tragedy played out on stage.

As the show continued, the songs made a ball change (to borrow a dance term) and you had the tempo going up. Feet-tapping optional! As the circumstances became more hopeful, the show got more chirpy and brighter in spirit.

Suddenly, you wanted these characters to succeed. You could identify with them, with your own struggles to rise above the rest and you wanted, more than anything, for the three friends, especially Frank, to be a somebody.

Rather aptly, a line from the tune Our Time – “It’s our time, breathe it in. Worlds to change and worlds to win. Our turn coming through, me and you, pal, me and you!” – really hits home.

Words which resonated deeply as we left the venue.

> Merrily We Roll Along runs at Pentas 2, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre till May 25. Tickets are priced at RM85, RM105 and RM125. For reservations or more info, call the KLPac box office at 03-4047 9000 or visit Tonight’s charity gala will see all ticket sales donated to Yayasan Sultanah Bahiyah. Tickets for the charity gala still available.