Frank, Charley and Mary have been friends for decades, friends through thick and thin, from poverty to fame and success. “Who’s like us? Damn few!” We first meet them in 1976, and it’s soon apparent there has been some kind of falling out between the three. How did they get here? In Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” this trio merrily and sometimes not so merrily go back in time stopping every few years until we see where they first met on a rooftop in 1957. It’s a tricky concept for a play (book by George Furth), because by the time you meet the nice, innocent characters they’ve already become someone else is in your mind. Cape Rep makes it work because of a stellar cast and crew.
Director Maura Hanlon assembled a talented troupe both on the stage and behind the scenes. The main characters are portrayed by three friends in real life, Trish LaRose, Jared Hagen and Adam Berry. LaRose’s emotional portrayal of Mary will tug at your heartstrings. Mary is all heart, and LaRose reveals each facet of this character with humor, resentment and anguish. Her one-liners at the party in the opening scene are uttered with spot on delivery. Ba da bump.
Charley is the guy everyone adores. Hagen’s portrayal of Charley is so good because it’s fundamentally genuine and real, especially as he deals with Frank’s betrayal. It’s obvious that both Mary and Charley love their friend Frank even in 1976 and through all the trying times. Berry takes Frank Shepard on his journey believably from unlikable to genial as we digress in time. The actor takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. You hate him then you like him and then you hate him again; an insightful look into how the character grew. “Frank Shepard, Inc.” sums up the relationship between the two and is a show stopper for Hagen.
There’s not a weak link in the ensemble. Rachel O’Malley as Gussie, the manipulative gal who acts as a catalyst to a lot of the trio’s troubles, is great, and Kelly Plescia as Beth the wronged wife is luminous. Ben Berry’s character Joe Josephson is nearly unrecognizable in the early years from the one we get a glimpse of in 1976. Another standout musical number was “Bobby and Jackie and Jack,” a humorous tribute to the Kennedy family well-executed by the LaRose, Hagen, Adam Berry and Plescia. Jess Andra, Shelby, Emma Fitzpatrick, Jeff Kelly, Meghan Mcgrath, Craig McKerley, Noah Pelty and Anthony Teixeira were fabulous carrying out each line, dance step, musical note and more. Julien Lajoie is adorable as Frank Jr.
Kudos to Robin McLaughlin for the unbelievable costumes; there are many, many costume changes and each indicative of the era portrayed. The colorful, detailed costumes added a notable layer to the splendid performances. (Mary Fritz’s props helped too!) Peter Hodgson’s musical direction was marvelous and Susan Nicholson’s lighting design paired nicely with Andrew Licout’s innovative set. The images of historic figures projected on the sliding flats, credited to Lisa Renkel, as the characters “merrily” moved back in time were informative and impressive. Hodgson and his band (Meyer Brown and Michael Dunford) were also outstanding. One can only imagine the backstage chaos with all the costume changes, comings and goings; Kate Gulden, stage manager extraordinaire is unseen but instrumental here.
The show is long, nearly two-and-a-half hours with a 15-minute intermission, but it’s fast-paced and so well acted that you’ll sit enthralled from the beginning in 1976 to the end in 1957.
"Merrily We Roll Along"
At Cape Rep Theatre, Route 6A, Brewster
Through June 3, Tuesday to Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org