Student actors step onto the blue stage and gather on the tiered set. The Case Footlighters are preparing to present “Merrily We Roll Along,” and will soon know it well enough to perform it backwards and forwards.
Next week the Case Footlighters will perform it both ways, depending on your perspective.
“Merrily We Roll Along” follows a trio of artistic friends as they find success in New York City, and tells their story backwards, from the end to the beginning. This perspective emphasizes not only character changes, but also what each of them gives up in exchange for success. Many reviewers of the original production disliked the air of disillusionment this gave to the musical, but the show has recently made a comeback.
The show’s director, Surya Ravindran, does not think the musical has a bitter message. By rewinding the story to its hopeful beginning, the musical “teaches the audience that they can do better” than the characters on stage. “I wanted to emphasize the hope in this show,” said Ravindran.
To do this he has reframed the show’s narrative, now presented from the perspective of the son of a member of the trio who learns about his father’s past while looking through boxes in an attic. Frank Jr., the son, will be on stage for the entire show. His character existed in the original production, but was not as important to the narrative and had few lines.
“My character is basically an observer,” said Zach Palumbo, who plays Frank Jr. “The way [the production] was adapted gives an extra layer of character depth to both Frank and Frank Jr.”
Ravindran explains that Frank Jr.’s expanded role helps give the musical a more hopeful tone, as Frank Jr. can learn from his father’s mistakes. He intends for audiences to leave the production with a sense of hope, and “when you tie that hope to a character, it’s more resonant.”
Frank Jr. also helps tie the scenes together, as does the show’s focus on memory. The restructured show is now less like a story told backward and more like a series of memories discovered from the end. The set and props like the boxes of memories will help represent this idea. The boxes will be labeled with years and will contain mementos, like military dog tags and manuscripts.
The stage itself is painted blue, the color of memory, and the costumes are shades of blue, green and yellow. “We wanted the costumes to go with the stage,” said Alexis Attinoto, who worked as a costume designer in addition to her role onstage as a member of the friend trio.
Ravindran has applied his attention to detail throughout the show. One of the main characters is a composer, and the sheet music used onstage as props will be scores from “Merrily We Roll Along”. “This is a show you can watch multiple times and get more out of,” said Ravindran. “That’s the kind of show I like to watch.”
In the end, it’s about the show’s music. “There’s a line from the show that I find really important,” said Ravindran. “The line is: ‘Music is everything.’”
“Merrily We Roll Along” will premiere Thursday, Nov. 21 at 8:30 p.m. in Carlton Commons, and will continue with 8 p.m. shows on Friday, Nov. 22 and Saturday Nov. 23, in addition to an 11:59 p.m. showing on Saturday.