THEATER REVIEW: “Merrily We Roll Along” at Lakeland Civic Theatre by Linda Eisenstein

Through Sun 2/18

Over the decades, director Martin Friedman has proved himself both a scholar and a sensitive interpreter of Stephen Sondheim musicals. In his lyrical, moving mounting of the difficult, complex Merrily We Roll Along, he excavates the pain, nostalgia, and regrets of middle age and the friends you gain and lose along the way.

He has an ideal cast in his trio of leads. Eric Fancher as the successful but troubled Frank seems to haunt his own life like Marley’s ghost, imprisoned by the chains of his success. Trey Gilpin as Charlie, his friend and collaborator, ignites the first act with his tour de force solo of betrayal and wounded friendship. Amiee Collier shines as gal pal Mary, whose unrequited and unspoken love thrums as constant accompaniment.

In Friedman’s rendering there are no heroes or villains, just the inexorable march toward the consequences of one’s choices, which Sondheim and librettist George Furth brilliantly expose by telling the story backward, ending with hopeful youngsters imagining their creative lives to come.

Huge shoutout to scenic designer Austin Kilpatrick, whose glowing backdrop of crumpled paper and simple doors and boxes clearly peg it as a memory play. And musical director Jordan Cooper assembles a kickass 12-piece orchestra with a brassy sound you can’t even hear on Broadway these days. Well done.

The play runs through Sun 2/18 at Lakeland Community College. Go here for tickets or call 440-525-7134.

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