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Stone Bridge delivers Sondheim’s ‘Merrily’ with gusto

Ashley Adams, a student at South Lakes High School, reviews “Merrily We Roll Along” performed by Stone Bridge High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Stone Bridge’s Robb Barwis, Jeannette Huggler, Jeff Davis, Sam Lade, Heather Reed, Lindsey Cochran and Xabi Mugica. (Photo courtesy of the Coakley family)

The lights dim, the orchestra begins, the audience waits. Finally, the curtain opens and the show… ends? Stone Bridge High School’s production of Sondheim’s chronologically-defiant musical Merrily We Roll Along, proved to be an enjoyable evening. The show featured talented leads, a vocally skilled ensemble, and off-the-charts energy.

Merrily We Roll Along opened on Broadway in 1981, running for only 16 performances. With a book by George Furth and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it is based on the 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. In reverse chronological order, the musical tells the story of Broadway composer-turned-movie producer Frank Shepard. The show begins in 1976, with Frank a successful but jaded producer, and works backwards to the hopeful moment in 1957 where a young, naïve Frank, with his oldest friends Charley and Mary, watches Sputnik from his apartment rooftop and imagines all that may be in store for him and his young colleagues.

As Frank, Jason Francis seemed well up to the part. His steady voice fit his character and he was able to play Frank’s reverse-development very well. Meanwhile, Ryan Bardenett unapologetically stole the show as Frank’s estranged best friend, Charley. At turns wonderfully comical or bitter, Bardenett shined especially in the number ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc.’ using an incredible range of facial expressions and wild but specific gestures to enhance his characterization. Roopali Kulkarni (Mary) completed the trio with her lovely voice and well-timed one-liners. All three performers showcased their physical chemistry and vocal ability in ‘Old Friends.’

Headlining the group of adroit supporting performers, Harper Franklin (Gussie) had her character’s flirtatious, flighty nature down to the ‘T.’ Her somewhat imperfect, rasping voice was well- suited for ‘Growing Up.’ And as Beth, Abby Middleton’s soprano was a marvelous addition to numbers such as ‘Bobby and Jackie and Jack’ and “It’s a Hit.’

Though the chorus was sometimes responsible for an over-crowded stage picture, especially in otherwise flawless company numbers such as ‘Our Time – Part 3,’ they were also responsible for many of the outstanding vocals featured in the show. Collectively, they were engaged in every scene and never looked out of place, and for that alone they deserve a hearty round of applause.

Stone Bridge had a few sound problems, most of which seemed to stem from microphone volume. While the actors seemed capable of projecting their spoken lines, body mics were used, which turned the actors’ voices into a shrill.

Despite the sound problems, the show was technically proficient. Especially skillful was the lighting provided by Brittany Couell, Daniel Hopkins, Camille Petrillo, and David Silvernail. The four managed to capture the emotion in each scene, from the red lighting featured in the opening scene as Frank realizes his life has crumbled around him to the hopeful fade-in of morning light in the closing scene as the characters imagine their futures.

Stone Bridge’s memorable performance of Merrily We Roll Along featured magnificent vocals and a talented cast and treated the audience to a wonderful evening of theater.

By Ashley Adams, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  April 22, 2010; 1:29 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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