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141120 Advance, 'Merrily' rolls on in WEB

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Back in time with 'old friends'

Tony winner Michele Pawk helms Wagner production of rare Sondheim classic
by MICHAEL J. FRESSOLA

Actress and Wagner College Theater prof Michele Pawk doesn’t really want to talk about her production of “Merrily We Roll Along” or her acting classes — or even her own work (the Tony winner was most recently off-Broadway starring in “17 Orchard Point.”)

She wants to talk only about “the kids” — her students.

“They are incredible!” she said recently during some downtime in her office, right next door to Wagner’s Main Hall Theater.

“They think outside the box,” she said, “and they are so generous. I love teaching them and I love dealing with them.”

Pawk, who is directing “Merrily” with an all-student cast, comes to the show with credentials.

A longtime working actress with an enviable resume, she was in an award-winning 1994 York Theater “Merrily” revival that many critics liked better than the original.

The show, a Stephen Sondheim/George Furth collaboration, has three of Sondheim’s best songs, “Not a Day Goes By,” “Old Friends” and “Got a Good Thing Going.”

Like all Sondheim projects, “Merrily” is thoughtful and unusual.

Like Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” it moves backwards (from 1980 to 1955), examining the not-always-merry, complex lives of its characters in reverse.

At the end, they are young and enthusiastic facing the bright future they hope will come their way. The audience knows otherwise.

Despite consistent acclaim, Sondheim shows can be a tough sell. Pawk, who has directed some safer bets at Wagner, namely “Seussical,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” “Rent” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”

She is hoping that even theatergoers who don’t know “Merrily,” will take a chance on it.

“I think — I hope — people will come,” she said. “I have to say it’s been an amazing thing for the kids to work on and it is the kind of show that appeals to me. I like to be challenged. For me, the message has to be personal.”

The cast includes Joshua Sottile, TJ Lamando, Katherine Bragg, Lisa Jeanne Peterson, Jeanine Bruen, Tom Althoff, Tyler Angotto, Nick Barakos, Lindsay Dunn, Sam Forin Courtnay McGowan, Paige McNamara, Daniel Marconi Mackenzie Shay and Sarah Shear. Lauri Young is musical director.

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