photo courtesy : Keith Ian Polakoff Joseph Ruggiero as Frank and Emily Turner as Gussie
Cal State Long Beach’s production of Merrily We Roll Along boasts some great performances that are ultimately overshadowed by serious blocking issues, that make the performance a little less “Merry” and a lot more disappointing.
Merrily We Roll Along follows the twisting tale of wealthy and influential songwriter and film producer, Franklin Shepard. The show opens with a party being thrown in Shepard’s honor, only to reveal to the audience that despite his popularity and financial success, the most valued relationships in his life are now in shambles. The show begins to go backwards in time to reveal episodes from his past that might answer the question of where it all went wrong. At its most basic level, its the story of success not being the end all be all in life.
Working backwards scene by scene, I was reminded a little of movies like Citizen Kane that follow a similar storyline. And while the question of “where did it all go wrong?” is never definitively answered, the everyday occurrences of life might be enough to hold our attention if not for one simple thing–the blocking.
The staging was distracting beyond belief. It would appear that someone for some reason thought that large, strange set pieces/walls with holes and little windows would serves as artistic, creative, and avant garde. While the pieces certainly resembled many other art pieces/paintings that can be seen any number of times in a modern day art exhibit, they do little to enhance the enjoyability of the show. This is due to the fact that the stage is set in the middle of the audience and the set pieces block at least half of the performance at any given time. While the pieces were utilized as both “boards” to write the year on and props (such as doors) I would rather see the performers over the backs of boards any day.
The strongest performances came from the actors playing Mary(Colleen McCandless) and Charley (Daniel Nakawatase), the blocking and dancing from the rest of the performers was somewhat stilted.
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