Merrily We Roll Along

JEFF CARPENTER is merrily blown away by this top shelf music.

ADC Theatre, 8-12 May, 7.45pm, £8-12 

Directed by Josh Stamp-Simon

[rating:5/5]

This show is astonishing. If you’re reading this review then just bear in mind that I’ve now gone completely mad with joy after seeing this show.

The 1981 musical’s based on a play from 1934, written by Stephen Sondheim (music/lyrics) and George Furth (book). We follow the life-story of Franklin Sheppard (Joey Batey) – a struggling but talented composer who finally hits the big time – backwards in time. Crucial to the choices Frank makes along the way are the people who surround him, his brilliant lyricist Charley Kringas (Andrew Room), his dear friend Mary (Ellie Nunn), his first wife Beth (Jess Peet) and his second wife Gussie (Sandra Mackenzie). But this is no trite family musical about friendship, it is a deeply moving and wonderfully layered portrait of the pitfalls of success and how people change, with Sondheim’s uniquely amazing music and lyrics.

The stars of the show are undoubtedly Batey and Nunn, which is insane when you consider they have no musical theatre experience in Cambridge (apart from Nunn in the ensemble of this year’s Footlights’ Panto). Their assuredness on stage and strength of vocal talent is enough to blow you away as it is, but everyone else matched it, with one of the most dynamic, wonderful ensembles I’ve ever seen in Cambridge. Room’s refreshingly honest rendition of the ferocious Franklin Sheppard inc. brought the house down, while MacKenzie sizzled her way through every deranged melody and Peet obviously made me cry, beautifully singing the most famous song of the show, Not A Day Goes By.

The ADC theatre has been stripped bare, the perfect setting for a whirlwind of new writing, new theatres and new apartments. From this, the black-and-white-clad cast make the stage erupt with movement, due in part to the terrific choreography of Maria Montague. Even in the quieter moments, the stage fizzles with energy, the ensemble lingering menacingly at the back. Director Josh Stamp Simon has ensured the painfully honest meets the absurd the whole way through, in the most wonderful way, eliciting the very best from his talented cast. The band are amazing, all students under the baton of pro musical director Ross Leadbeater. I wish I could shout at you all at length about how wonderful every atom of this show is.

I will add a pessimistic note. The theatre last night was about a third full. What the hell are you all doing? Revising?! Finally, a show comes to Cambridge that frankly has in spades all the elements that make great musical theatre, and it receives a screaming standing ovation from only like, seventy people. It’s not good enough. It’s shows like this that make life worth living. Go and you’ll see what I mean. I can only thank the cast and crew for giving me one of the most extraordinary nights of theatre I’ve seen in my entire time at Cambridge. Thank you.

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