Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Julie Baz. The Depot Theatre, Limelight on Oxford, Sydney. November 14 - December 1, 2018

Little Triangle’s production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along was a pleasant surprise at Sydney’s Depot Theatre earlier this year. With a young cast, the company staged a wonderful show, demonstrating care and affection for the difficult musical gem. 

There are a lot of similarities here as the producers at the Depot Theatre, led by Julie Baz, stage their own version of a Sondheim musical. Once again, they’ve assembled a young, energetic cast that attacks the work with gusto. They’ve moved from Marrickville to a smaller space on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, which presents new challenges. But like their colleagues at the Little Triangle, they pull off a hit with zest and aplomb.

Merrily is an exploration of friendship, Company of companionship and love. The 1970 musical doesn’t have a plot but is more like a revue, exploring these themes through the experiences of the main character, Robert. He is resolutely single and his nearest and dearest try to convince him of the benefits (mostly) of getting hitched.

The space on the top floor of Limelight on Oxford is a little cramped and only seats 50 or so people. But with a little band and wonderful singing, the company of Company pack it with lots of fun. The cast is stronger as a whole than individually - the full chorus numbers are the best, approached with musical precision and top-notch harmonies. “Side by Side by Side” is a highpoint. The number simply pops - thanks, in no small part, to Tracey Blankenship’s brilliant choreography.

There are some very good individual performances too. Brendan Paul gets stronger as Robert as the show progresses. His acting is accomplished and while some of the earlier numbers could be improved, he is best in the most important songs - “Marry Me a Little” and “Being Alive”. There are a number of other notable performances too: Ileana Pipitone as April, Heather Campbell getting the laughs as Amy and Michele Lansdown, an unexpected highlight as Joanne. Lansdown emerges from the back of the room to hit just the right note (and notes) in the famous “Ladies who Lunch”.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the passion here for this show. The numbers are some of Sondheim’s best and the company shows them the utmost regard. Director Julie Baz deserves a lot of the credit, drawing a lot of talent from the cast. One thing though: there are too many distractions. The women drink (and spill) sparkling wine on the bed while the men are singing, and even more strangely, two cast members throw (and drop) a baseball in another song. It’s unnecessary and the show is better when there is less of it.

Some of the performances need work too, although they will no doubt strengthen. But overall, the Depot Theatre should be commended. The love and respect shown for this small show at a new, boutique venue pays off. Bravo.

Peter Gotting

Photographer: Clare Hawley

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