Stephen Sondheim’s most recent contribution to the musical stage is the rather appropriately named Road Show which is currently receiving its European premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
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This production, designed and directed by John Doyle is the fourth re-worked edition of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s original workshop musical about the notorious Mizner brothers. It began its journey in 1999 as ‘Wise Guys’, then ‘Gold’, rewritten again as ‘Bounce’ in 2003 and finally developed into the production performed today. It is rather like the Sugababes of musical theatre, only Road Show has actually got significantly better at each stage of its evolution…
The piece tells the story of Wilson and Addison Mizner, two brothers who, driven by their parent’s ambition and want for their sons’ success in 1920s America, travel through the country initially in search of gold in Alaska. When silver-tongued Wilson fritters away their fortune on gambling, whisky and cocaine, the two part ways and Addison moves to Florida with his new-found lover Hollis to become an architect for the rich residents of Palm Beach. Wilson later returns hoping to latch on to his brother’s success in the property business but his louche ways are unchanged and risk-taking unsuccessful, resulting in the collapse of their property enterprise.
The score is distinctly Sondheim but with touches of old-time Vaudeville that are perfectly complimented by the velvety tones of David Bedella’s debonair, yet strangely seductive, good-time Willie Mizner. Respectively, Road Show contains the expected intricate ensemble numbers of a piece of Sondheim, performed by a stellar supporting cast in all their guises, and also beautifully crafted melodies and ballads. The Best Thing That Ever Happened a love duet between Addison and his partner Hollis Alpert (one of the only love duets for two men in a piece of mainstream musical theatre, I believe), is sang with a tender yet generous warmth by Michael Jibson’s gentle Addison and Jon Robyns’ plucky Hollis. The band of eight lead by Catherine Jayes completely capture the elegance, wit and charm of Sondheim’s music and lyrics and Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations.
In the few years of its existence, the Menier has garnered a reputation for putting on brilliant pieces of Sondheim that have had huge success beyond their stay at the Chocolate Factory. Notably the 2005 production of Sunday in the Park with George which was nominated for nine Tony Awards when it transferred to Broadway in 2008, and more recently the 2008 production of A Little Night Music which, following its Broadway transfer in 2009 received four Tony nominations and a win for Catherine Zeta-Jones as lead actress in a musical. This production of Road Show is certainly worthy of the success of its Menier predecessors, and the near-full house at each performance will hopefully be influential in persuading the producer big-wigs to give it a life after its brief run at the Menier.
As you would expect, it is Wilson Mizner who has the final words of the show. “Sooner or later we’re bound to get it right.” Mr Doyle, Mr Weidman, Mr Sondheim; you certainly have.
Road Show runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London until 17th September 2011. See www.menierchocolatefactory.com
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Words: Nicola Dempsey