Every show I see at the Chocolate Factory reinforces my conviction that is one of the top 5 five theatrical powerhouses in London, on or off the West End. Their latest Christmas offering is a new production of Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" - a show with toe-curling title but a toe-tapping and heart-rending score and lyrics in cracking production that races rather rolls along.
The plot, told backwards in time, follows the stellar career (and the stars do come out all over the theatre at the end - which is of course the beginning!) of Franklin Shepard, a composer who hits the big time and leaves his lyricist partner Charles Kringas and college friend Mary Flynn picking up the emotional tab for his fame.
The show is both funny and sad, glitzy and dark and is worth the ticket price to for Jenna Russell's outstanding performance as Mary. Her outburst with the metal tray will make me think of this show every time I hear one fall. Clare Foster as Franklin's first love, Beth, sings one of the shows greatest hits "As the day's go by" the best I have ever heard it performed knocking even the great Cleo Lane's recording into second place in my book.
Any negatives - we the show's length of almost three hours and an 8.00pm start means a late night getting home on public transport and the venue with its low ceiling means you get as hot under the lights and the stars as the cast. "I have never been to such a hot theatre in my life" gasped one punter in front of me as the packed audience jostled out. I quite agree but am not sure I meant the same kind of heat.
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