“Merrily We Roll Along:” Behind the Scenes of the Winter Musical

Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Written by Esme Longley ‘20

Sondheim’s controversial musical, Merrily We Roll Along, originally flopped on Broadway, but Durham Academy’s production had quite the opposite effect. The musical follows a reverse chronological tale that confronts the audience’s values of morality and friendship.With a talented cast, fantastic faculty leaders, a dedicated crew and a harmonious pit band, the show was a definite success.

A series of catchy songs that left the audience humming for days introduced the audience to the lovable and fashionable character of Franklin Shepard, played by senior Yaakov Huba. Frank ponders on how he changed from a budding composer to a corporate film producer.

Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Spectators took a trip down memory lane with Frank, his best friend Mary Flynn (played by senior Sarah Farrin) who is hopelessly in love with him, his other best friend and talented lyricist Charley Kringas (played by junior Carl May) and his ex-wife (played by junior Joanna Brooke).

Playing such complex characters came with a whole set of challenges. Farrin said that the greatest challenge for her was “gaining confidence in singing and being able to sing in front of large groups of people,” but it paid off as she “got to know incredible people!”

This is a production about musicians and their relationship with music. Therefore, the pit band, led by Upper School Music Director Michael Meyer, had an important role in accompanying the actors. The pit band musicians gained a new insight into the show by playing the music.

Pianist Aram Lindroth, a junior, explained that the evolution of the recurring melody “Good Thing Going” adds a layer of depth to Frank’s character development.

“The audience first hears this melody in the Overture. Then it appears as background music at a party… just as the main character is complaining about how he hates his life as a celebrity figure who sacrificed his artistic vision in the interest of success,” Lindroth said. “Then we hear a much more popularized version of the song as part of the show that the main character wrote to become popular. Then we finally hear the original version, which gives us perspective to see how he butchered it to make it part of his popular show.”

Aside from reflecting on the deeper meaning of Sondheim’s composition, Lindroth and other musicians, including sophomore Griffin Edwards, a second-year percussionist in the pit band, worked hard to master the complex pieces they played. Edwards explained, “One thing I love about playing percussion in a musical is the variety in the music. I could be banging away at the drum set on an upbeat song and on the next, I could be playing the xylophone to a slower love song.”

You won’t just get to put on an intricate and well-executed show; you will meet your family.
Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Photo from Durham Academy Flickr

Ninth-grader Ally Fox said that practicing with the group is “a little stressful to do well, because you have to focus on your notes, beats and staying in time with the rest of the band, and it’s really easy to mess up and beat yourself up about it.” However, she concluded that the experience really pays off, since mastering a song is “really rewarding.”

Behind the scenes, the technical crew worked hard to keep things running. During the weeks leading up the performance, former crew member Cristina Pastor Valverde commented, “[Mr. Kavanagh] is a phenomenal set crew director, so I am confident the set will come out well.”

Senior Lydia Rockart ran the lights in the performance and explained that her favorite part was tech rehearsals. “For me, the best part of making the musical is also probably most people’s least favorite,” she said.

Rockart added, “On the Sunday before the preview, the cast and crew was at school from noon to nine running through various light cues and transitions, sometimes doing a single scene for hours… That Sunday was the first time I saw the show start to come together and the work we had done come to life.”

Nechama Huba, senior and assistant director urges everyone to become a part of the theatre program, “If you are reading this, you need to audition for the play/musical. Seriously. I promise it will change your life. You won’t just get to put on an intricate and well-executed show; you will meet your family.”

With a talented team on and off stage, the months of hard work definitely paid off – the musical was a “box office, lollapalooza, gargantuan hit!”