There is no excuse not to merrily roll along to see this productionFaris Qureshi with permission for Varsity

Known for its later success after original poor reception, the plot of Merrily We Roll Along focuses on the journey of three friends over the course of twenty years in reverse chronological order. The protagonist is a composer called Franklin Shepard, played in this production by Hugo Gregg, who abandons the people in his life to become a producer of Hollywood movies. Considering my personal favourite musical is the Sondheim classic West Side Story, I was curious to see how Trinity Hall Music Society’s Merrily We Roll Along would live up to this classic - I can gladly say it delivered.

Walking into the Trinity Hall lecture theatre, I was immediately greeted by the pit in a separate room. Consisting of twelve musicians and their conductor Charlotte Wan, this created an interesting immersive experience from the start. The confined space that the cast had to work with was certain - throughout the opening number I was expecting the blue curtains to open up and reveal more of the stage, but my admiration increased when I realised that the whole show was being performed in such a compact auditorium. This limitation, however, worked to their benefit. Directors Laura Thomas and Iris Jopp innovatively utilised the floor and the stage, as well as the audience itself. On a black keyboard placed on the floor sat a photo frame, some wine glasses, and a bottle - fun additions during every party scene. The most creative aspect of the staging arrived in the opening number, where the singers were dotted in and around the audience, creating a surround sound experience, until they eventually moved to collect together around Franklin.

“Singers were dotted in and around the audience, creating a surround sound experience”

As dazzling as it was when the rhythmic drums and tuneful trumpets resounded to create the opening flare of music, the overall energy, quality, and excitement of the show significantly increased from the middle of the first act, from which point there was no stopping the cast from delivering show-stopping performances. The start was slightly shaky, particularly for solo lines amongst the chorus members. Projecting above the pit was a difficult task and some lines were delivered from outside the room, so they were inevitably slightly weaker. But, as an ensemble, the singing was strong. The turning point came during the musical number ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc.’ performed by Wilf Offord who played Charley Kringas. His incredible vocal stamina combined with animated physicality and great comedic timing within this fast-paced song temporarily transformed the production into a one-man show. From there the show emerged fully into its greatness, resulting in exactly the sort of euphoric peak you would want at the end of the first act. The dynamic choreography and use of props during the packing scene in ‘Now You Know’ worked perfectly with the crescendo of the orchestra, leaving the audience raring to go for the second half.

“The show emerged fully into its greatness, resulting in exactly the sort of euphoric peak you would want at the end of the first act”

Some standout vocal performances came from Hugo Gregg (Franklin Shephard) and Tabitha Tucker (Gussie Carnegie), whose sultry tones during ‘Growing Up’ were a welcome contrast to the upbeat songs up until that point. Furthermore, the introduction to the character of Beth, played by Stella Williamson, in the number ‘Not a Day Goes By’, was an appreciated change of pace and tone, as she delivered a touching performance portraying a woman who has been cheated on by her husband. There was a refreshing subtlety in her emotions and character, starkly different from the loud and bold characters of Mary and Gussie.


Mountain View

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Shows performed on this scale have a sense of charm, and this clearly came across during the interval when we could see the stage being set up, or whenever an actor would brush the curtains of the backdrop to reveal a standing whiteboard. Yet, this is not to say that the production was at all lacking in professionalism - quite the opposite. A particular mention is needed for costume designer Iris Jopp, who put together such a fabulous wardrobe for the characters that I feel I should ask her to aid my quest to fit the ‘Sidge girlie’ look. From a quirky use of party hats and glittered masquerade masks during “The Blob” to represent the members of high society, to the high-end outfits tailored for Gussie to fit the aesthetic of a diva Broadway actress, the costumes were immaculate. (Although I do not envy Tabitha Tucker for having to dance in such high heels!)

Amongst the positive reactions and laughs from the audience, I chuckled to myself during one of the last lines of the musical: “we’re the name in tomorrow’s papers” - ironic, considering I was noting their names for the purpose of putting them in a paper. The final number was sincere and heartfelt, about newfound friendship and hope, rounding off what I thought was a thoroughly enjoyable production, which would be entertaining to even those who are not avid musical theatre fans. There is no excuse not to merrily roll along to see this production.

Merrily We Roll Along is showing at the Trinity Hall Lecture Theatre until the 22nd of January.