Available Light Theatre rarely does anything easy. So in putting on their first musical, they didn't merely opt for the greatest and most challenging composer of musicals in our time, Stephen Sondheim. They picked one of his more problematic works, "Merrily We Roll Along."

Available Light Theatre rarely does anything easy. So in putting on their first musical, they didn't merely opt for the greatest and most challenging composer of musicals in our time, Stephen Sondheim. They picked one of his more problematic works, "Merrily We Roll Along."

Revised extensively by Sondheim and playwright George Furth, "Merrily" recounts the ravages of ambition, betrayal and disillusionment on artistic ideals and friendships. Told in reverse chronological order, "Merrily" goes from the bleak and cynical backward to the bright and hopeful. Oddly, the quality of Available Light's production traces a parallel arc from ragged and uneven in the first act to more solid and impressive in the second.

The three leads reflect that unevenness. Nick Lingnofski is Charley Kringas, lyricist to Broadway-gone-Hollywood composer Franklin Shepard, played by Ian Short. Carrying a torch for Franklin, novelist Mary Flynn (Heather Carvel) serves as the intermediary between the two contentious friends and collaborators.

Carvel acts her songs with fervor, delivering exactly what Sondheim requires. Lingnofski is terrific, especially in the bitter "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," which he grabs by the throat and rumbas the hell out of. But the usually dependable Short seems adrift in the first act, passively wandering when he should be actively wondering where Franklin has gone wrong.

Additionally, neither the offstage ensemble conducted by Pam Welsh-Huggins nor the supporting chorus manages to navigate through Sondheim's melodic minefield without mishap.

Don't get me wrong. No one who admires Sondheim or Available Light (or both) should miss the rare opportunity to see and hear this show, with all of its problems and pleasures.