Thursday August 16 9:54 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

I found Porchlight's "Merrily We Roll Along" Heavy Going

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Franklin Shepard (Jim DeSantis) is the toast of Hollywood – or is he? He’s a successful producer, so most of the people at his party are only there because they have to be. His wife, Gussie Carnegie (Keely Vasquez), tired of his affairs with the starlet of the week, wants a divorce.

Mary (Neala Barron), his best friend from the old days, flew in from New York for the party because she cares about him. When he won’t listen to anything she says, she gets drunk and spews out an angry bitter rant. Just the mention of a successful show written by Charlie Kringas makes Frank lose his cool – which leads into a look back into his life.

A timeline is handy device for a playwright as it marks important event in the characters’ lives. This timeline, however, goes completely backwards in time, showing important events in Franklin’s life in reverse order. The plot is impossible to follow because the timeline is so convoluted. In some cases, I had no idea who these people were until two scenes later! At least there were projections to show me when these things were happening.

At any rate, the most important factoids about his life – which we didn’t learn until the very end of the show -
• Frank, Charlie (Matt Crowle) and Mary were struggling artists in New York
• Frank wrote the music, his best friend Charlie wrote the lyrics
• Frank, Charlie and Beth (Aja Wiltshire) stage their musical in small venues off-off-off Broadway until they got discovered
• Frank married Beth, Charlie married Evelyn (Kyrie Anderson)
• Frank sold out, divorced his wife, dumped his friends and went to Hollywood
• Gussie started as a secretary for Broadway producer, Joe Josephson (David Fiorello), changed her name, married him, became a Broadway star, dumped him, married Frank.

The excellent Porchlight ensemble includes Kyrie Anderson, Larry Baldacci, Katherine Condit, Christopher Davis, Andrés Enriquez, Frederick Harris, Michelle Jasso, Bernell Lassai III, Cisco Lopez, Alanna Lovely, Liz Norton, Khaki Pixley and Jonathan Stombres. Frank Jr. is played by Zachary Scott Fewkes and Asher Schenk in rotation.

Theater-goers in Northwest Indiana will recognize Kyrie Anderson (Make-Up Artist, Evelyn, Ensemble). In 2016, she starred in the title role in NightBlue’s production of “Mary Poppins”. In 2015, she appeared in the Towle Theater’s production of “Next Thing You Know”. She won the Hoosier Star competition in 2009, and she’s appeared in productions across the region. I remember I reviewed her 2011 performance as prostitute, Lucy Harris, in “Jekyll & Hyde” at Memorial Opera House, Valparaiso, as stellar.

Porchlight Theatre’s production of “Merrily We Roll Along” runs through March 11th at the Ruth Page center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago. Valet parking is available as well as reduced rate parking in nearby garages.

Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 pm (March 4th and 11th) and 6:00 pm (February 18th and 25th). There will be no performance on March 8th. Tickets range from $33-$60. FYI (773) 777-9884 or www.porchlightmusictheatre.org.