At Atholton, cast meets a challenge

Sondheim's complex musical is done convincingly


March 30, 2007|By Irma Hashmi | Irma Hashmi,special to the sun

Naive to the cruelties of life, they dreamed to "change the world." Instead, the world changed them. True, success walked into their lives, but only as broken hearts stepped out. Such is the moving tale of Merrily We Roll Along performed convincingly last week at Atholton High School.

Unlike typical musicals, Merrily We Roll Along takes a fresh approach in portraying the torn lives of music composer Frank, lyricist Charley and author Mary. It begins at the apex of their careers and moves backward to their beginnings, a humble New York City apartment in the late 1950s. Thus, the audience is imbued not with sorrow but rather pity throughout the night.

With the help of an active orchestra and supporting ensemble, strong individual performances carried the show to produce a truly realistic showing of Stephen Sondheim's complex musical.

Danny Romeo, the success-hungry Frank, developed a flawed hero with his strong vocals and natural acting, whirling the audience on a Maelstrom of emotions -- initially, disgust for his deceitfulness; later, admiration for his unceasing determination.

Dustin Merrell, as Charley, almost stole the show with his performance of "Franklin Shepard Inc.," clasping each physical nuance with notes, rings and beats from the orchestra while radiating an almost tangible energy. Jennie Gold answered the demanding calls of her character, Mary, with aplomb, employing a worn stature and drunken gait at first to delineate her alcoholic nature, then fully executing her talent in heart-wrenching ballads such as "Old Friends" to ease her progression to a younger, aspiring author.

Blayre Widener carefully embodied a supportive, breadwinning wife to sharply contrast Kelly Lilley's role as the seductive diva Gussie, both of whom further enhanced the somber realism of the production. Although some characters seemed underdeveloped, the ensemble as a whole enlivened each transition, peeling yet another couple of years with their transitional number, "Merrily We Roll Along."

Simple sets and costumes remained intact with the setting: tuxedos and evening dresses befitted the elite of Broadway, whereas cold city buildings served as a stark reminder of the harsh realities of life. Minor technical problems peppered the show. But the cast recovered quickly, allowing for minimal distraction.

Despite the show's mature content, the cast of Atholton High School proved more than apt in facing the challenge. The final moments imparted a powerful feeling of hope; however, Frank's life reminds us that, although we clutch the potential to "change the world," we must tread with caution upon the road of life.

Irma Hashmi, a student at Centennial High School, reviewed "Merrily We Roll Along" for the Cappies of Baltimore, a program in which students review high school productions under the direction of their teachers and vote on awards for outstanding performances.

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