Merrily We Roll Along – Queen’s Theatre

Stephen Sondheim’s birthday celebrations continue with the much-anticipated Donmar Warehouse concert revivals of two of their many associations with the composer. Next week sees two concert performances of Company but first up it’s the turn of Merrily We Roll Along.

For many this is one of Sondheim’s ‘problem’ scores, closing on Broadway just 16 performances after opening night. The UK has looked more kindly on the show, with successful runs in the regions and the basis of this concert at the Donmar in 2000.

Much of the perceived problem is the plot runs in reverse, following the lives and loves of a trio of friends starting in 1980 and ending in 1957 but, for those prepared to invest some engagement with the piece, it offers rewards in the form of one of Sondheim’s finest scores, underpinned with emotion, wit and a wry look at the fickle world of showbiz itself.

Staging such a complex plot in concert format could be problematic but here in a ravishing production – the score has never sounded better.

Reuniting original cast members Daniel Evans, Samantha Spiro and Julian Ovenden this Merrily not just rolls along, it flies. In this concert staging we are able to enjoy book and score but also some remarkable performances by a company on top form. Here is a score that offers up some of Sondheim’s most accessible numbers: Old Friends, The Hills of Tomorrow, Our Time and the title song soar across the auditorium.

Director Rob Ashford gives just enough action to convey the plot without swamping the concert format, while musical director Gareth Valentine conjures up an impressively full performance from his eight-piece band.

There is many a rumour of a revised version of Merrily hitting London in 2011 but producers could do far worse than reviving this production without delay. Far from being a problem show this is a classic score by a maestro at the top of his game.

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