“Merrily We Roll Along” will play this weekend
In a time when most students are focused on acing their midterms or finding that perfect summer internship, have we given ourselves the chance to take a moment to stop and reflect about our past decisions, such as why we chose to come to the College in the first place and how we chose the career paths we want to pursue? Those deep questions about everything we sacrifice in order to achieve success will be explored when the College’s theater department presents “Merrily We Roll Along” (1981), a musical based on the 1934 eponymous play by George Kaufman and Moss Hart with music and lyrics by Academy- and Tony-Award winning composer Stephen Sondheim, this weekend.
Set primarily in New York during the late 20th century, “Merrily” chronicles the life of songwriter and film producer Franklin Shepard who will be played by Max Samuels ’15. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience will see the choices Frank makes that help him find career success at the price of losing touch with his family and friends.
Stage and musical director Max Gottschall ’15 said that as a theater major he chose to present this musical as his senior thesis because of its relatable themes, particularly for students on the verge of graduating, and its depiction of the tough choices that can change people’s lives.
“It’s a rare musical that can be topical and really make people think and wonder and reconsider,” Gottschall said. “It makes people think a little harder about the choices they make and what succeeding and what unhappiness really does mean, because it’s harder than it seems.”
After selecting “Merrily” for his thesis a year ago, Gottschall said that he held auditions for the three largest roles over the winter term and cast Noah Samotin ’17 and Katelyn Onufrey ’15 alongside Samuels as Frank’s best friends Charley and Mary, respectively. He said that he also began to put together his creative design team in the winter because he knew the difficulties of directing a musical in six weeks, a truncated time period due to the shortness of the College’s terms.
In the second round of auditions at the beginning of spring term, Gottschall said that he finished casting the remaining three principal roles and a 10-person ensemble with Haley Reicher ’17 and Liza Couser ’17 starring as Frank’s wives Gussie and Beth, respectively, and Romen Mookerjee ’15 as Gussie’s ex-husband Joe.
Gottschall said the cast and crew rehearsed four to six times a week for four hours a night for about four weeks, adding that the amount of rehearsal time was relatively low for a show as big and complex as “Merrily.”
Aside from the short timeframe, Gottschall said that he and his design team had to overcome other obstacles during rehearsals, such as working with the large space in Moore Theater.
Theater professor Jamie Horton, one of Gottschall’s two thesis advisors, said musicals are always more demanding than other forms of theater because of their technical requirements, such as sound engineering and working with a live orchestra.
“In every aspect, there are more elements to handle and the collaborations and parties involved are greater in number,” Horton said.
Because of the added difficulty in designing a set that will work for all the location and time shifts throughout the musical, the production’s set designer Julie Solomon ’17 said the team decided to use projections to define the locations instead.
“I have never designed a set before using projections, so I’m learning as I go,” Solomon said. “I’m finding images and editing them and making sure they’re perfect.”
Choreographer Veronica Burt ’16 said she needed to change and restructure most of the show’s choreography two weeks ago when the cast began to practice with using three sets of levels and stairs that will be on the stage, due to the challenges involved with working around them.
“Even though I choreographed with those levels in mind, it’s such a different beast when you see these actors on these different playing spaces,” Burt said. “But we worked with what we had and just re-blocked everything.”
In the remaining days before the show opens, Gottschall said the crew will focus on incorporating the technical and lighting aspects into the show, while the cast will spend the rehearsals returning to the heart of the story and figuring out how they want to convey the characters to the audience. He said that ideally the cast will have two full dress rehearsals with costumes and props to work out any final kinks before Friday’s show.
Horton said that the musical’s structure helps make it distinct and engaging.
“I think the play is an interesting and very challenging way of storytelling because it happens in reverse,” Horton said. “It’s a little trickier, but the cast is bringing a lot of heart and an enormous amount of hard work and it’s really paying off.”
Gottschall said that he thinks “Merrily” is not worth missing with its relevant story and contrasting mix of singing, dancing and humor.
“It resonates with everyone who wants to watch it, whether they’re students who are just starting out in their lives or parents and community members who remember what is was like to be that way and the things they’ve lost since then and the things they’ve gained since then,” Gottschall said.
“Merrily” will open on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Moore Theater, with two additional performances on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are five dollars for students and general admission.