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Aug 29, 2008 4:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Disher plays it again at Southampton Cultural Center

Aug 29, 2008 4:06 PM

The theme of second chances runs all through director Michael Disher’s latest staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” playing for the next two weekends at the Southampton Cultural Center.

The musical, which stars Brett Chizever, Stephen D’Amico and Susan Vinski, is Mr. Disher’s second mounting of the production this year and will also kick off the second season of “Center Stage” at the Southampton Cultural Center.

The musical reprise—which chronicles the lives of three friends, told in reverse from 1976 to 1957—is a cautionary tale about the paucity of second chances in life.

“Merrily” tells the story of Franklin Shepard, played by Mr. D’Amico, a man who has found fame as the composer of Broadway musicals but has sacrificed his personal relationships along the way in order to achieve success. In the backward retelling of his life story, the audience experiences his journey from a cynical, jaded man who has lost his closest friends—including former longtime collaborator Charley Kringas, played by Mr. Chizever, and close friend Mary, played by Ms. Vinski—back to the naive starry-eyed kid he once was.

Mr. Chizever, who will reprise his role of Charley, and Mr. D’Amico, who played trombone in the orchestra at Mr. Disher’s concert production back in March, both said they relished another opportunity to get this show back on the boards.

Mr. Chizever, a 21-year-old who has worked with Mr. Disher on three other shows, acknowledged this week that his role presented some difficulties. He pointed out that he’s playing a man who is much older than he is, but he added that the challenge has benefitted his craft as an actor, especially since he has had additional time to hone his character this time around.

“It’s very difficult to play an age I haven’t been yet, but it’s been really great,” he said. “Michael has given me the belief I can do this for a living if I choose.”

As a musician and theater veteran who also performed in Mr. Disher’s “Comedy of Errors,” the 16-year-old Mr. D’Amico said that he is really excited about performing the musical numbers as an actor this time around. “The score is phenomenal, with show-stopping numbers and tender ballads,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life doing it.”

Asked before rehearsal last Friday why he chose to revisit this particular show, Mr. Disher said that he is embracing the opportunity to take another stab at improving upon the material. “It’s a rare thing to get a second chance at something, which actually fits in with the theme of the show,” he said. “As a director, I got the opportunity to think deeper and develop a relatively fresh approach to the material the second time around ... it was a chance to see how much further I could go with it.”

Mr. Disher said that he does have his work cut out for him in telling a story that takes place in reverse order, but he added that both he and the material can stand up to the challenge. “How many of us can think backward?” Mr. Disher asked, punctuating his question by beginning to recite the alphabet backward from Z. “You have to think with this one,” he said. “It’s not just presentational theater—but it’s well worth the journey.”

Some might think “Merrily We Roll Along” an unusual choice for the fledging theater program at the Southampton Cultural Center since the complicated musical closed on Broadway in 1981 after only 16 performances. But Mr. Disher said after his success with the material in the concert production back in March, he was convinced that today’s sophisticated East End audience would be able to follow, and enjoy, the trajectory of the story, which he describes as a “drama with music.”

Producers on Broadway must agree that audiences are now ready for meatier subject matter and more convoluted plot, as the play will get a second chance on Broadway in a revival at the Roundabout Theater in 2009.

Southampton Cultural Center board member Dr. Dan Becker predicted that the upcoming fully staged production of “Merrily We Roll Along” will wow East End audiences. “This is one of the most remarkable shows, it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Audiences will quickly realize that this ain’t community theater, this is super pro.”

The Southampton Cultural Center’s “Sondheim Celebration” will revisit Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” for two weekends, September 5 through September 7 and September 11 through September 14. Michael Disher is the director and choreographer. Tickets are $25 general admission and $10 for students under 21. Curtain on Fridays and Saturdays is at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 5 p.m. The Southampton Cultural Center is on Pond Lane in Southampton Village, directly across from Agawam Park. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 287-4377 or by e-mail at scc@southamptonculturalcenter.org.

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