Directed by James Lapine, the elaborately-staged concert features a multitude of still and moving background images by Wendall K. Harrington that visually track and illustrate the passing years. Ken Billington’s lighting helps to focus audience attention. Possibly to accommodate first-time viewers, Lapine paces the production rather slowly to the point of occasional sluggishness.
The onstage 24-member orchestra conducted by Rob Berman intermittently sounded sour in the brass, and Thursday night’s performance was marred several times by crunchy amplification feedbacks.
The leading players are capable if not especially charismatic. Colin Donnell gives Frank a strong, clean voice and likeability. Lin-Manuel Miranda portrays the neurotic Charlie as a surprisingly well-grounded fellow. Celia Keenan-Bolger is far more believable when incarnating Mary’s younger self than her boozy middle age. The trio is at their best and brightest during the exuberant “Opening Doors” sequence. The ensemble members do nicely by their passing characters and in their harmonic mode.
For all of its pensive charms, “Merrily We Go Along” is a musical best enjoyed by Sondheim buffs than the show-going public at large. It probably will never be a commercial money-maker, but as we learn from observing how Frank’s art-versus-commerce life plays out, money isn’t everything.
“Merrily We Roll Along” continues through Feb. 18 at New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., New York. Call (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.