‘Merrily’ cast delivers a dynamic, winding tale

“Merrily We Roll Along” was another delightful production put together by the cast and crew of the Mary Moody Northen Theatre (MMNT). This musical, which first debuted in 1981, is based on a play of the same name, which in turn first debuted in 1934. Ev Lunning Jr., a veteran at the MMNT, directed the production.

“Merrily” is a pretty long show, even by musical standards, and lasted approximately three hours. It was definitely worth it, though, as this production proved MMNT’s sustained talent.

The story is about the journey of a songwriter, Franklin Shephard, from rags to riches—backwards. It takes place between the years of 1976 and 1957, and progresses in reverse chronological order. The first scene details the ending of the story, where we see Franklin dissatisfied with his life, longing to go back to the good ol’ times. Each scene references a prior event in the plot. The following scene goes back in time to that event, filling in details, and in turn referencing a new event. By the end of the play, we learn how the story began, and how everything came to be.

At first, the format of the musical was a bit confusing and awkward, but it made more sense as the show progressed. The advantage for telling the story in reverse chronological order is that the audience leaves the show with a good feeling, and a feeling of hopefulness. The first scene (chronologically the last) does not impart such a positive feeling. The format tricks the audience into feeling good, when the story is actually somewhat sad.

The music was very catchy, especially the title song reprise played between each scene change. The cast would then count down the years leading to the next scene—also a catchy tune. Additionally, the sound mixer incorporated historical clips from past decades, to help set the feeling of each scene’s era.

The protagonist Franklin Shephard was played by Scott Shipman, who has an extensive list of credits to his name. However, this is his first time at St. Edward’s University. His portrayal of Franklin was very convincing, and exposed the character’s reverse-development from a melancholic soul to an ambitious businessman and finally to an innocent musician.

Anna Vanston, a junior at St. Edward’s, played Gussie Carnegie, the primary antagonist to Franklin. Vanston was able to master her flamboyant character, dominating each scene in which she was present. Together, Vanston and Shipman were able to portray the relationship between their characters, which served as the driving force of the musical. This was Vanston’s third performance at the MMNT.

Overall, the show was performed very well by the cast and crew. It is an exceptional production that will put you in a good mood, and is well worth seeing.