Theatre Review - 'Road Show'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Stephen Sondheim's new musical ponders the American dream as two brothers haunt each other's lives

Boom & Bust in Road Show

A microcosm of the American experience with its boom and bust ethos is provided by Stephen Sondheim in his latest musical Road Show (Menier Chocolate Factory) which has a sardonic, satirical bite.

Set in the early part of the 20th centry, this tells the true story of Addison Mizner and his fast-talking brother Wilson, two of the most colourful and outrageous fortune seekers in American history, who were encouraged by their father to seize every opportunity that came along. Having prospected for gold in Alaska, the two brothers go their separate ways. 

Addison travels the world, speculates wildly and settles in Florida, where, helped by his rich male patron and lover, he becomes an architect, landing the prestigious job of building the city of Boca Raton, bringing him both wealth and acclaim. Wilson, meanwhile, is a gambler, womaniser, fight promoter and Broadway and Hollywood hack who, after losing all his money, seeks out his brother and helps to destroy his visionary dreams.

This show, which uses its two protagonists as a metaphor for America itself, was first staged in 1999 in a three-week workshop production directed by Sam Mendes. It was then rewritten and re-titled Gold, before director Hal Prince refashioned it, this time as Bounce. 

It has now been tightened and condensed into 95 minutes, with eight splendid musicians, instead of 13, actors doubling up roles and the audience seated in traverse on either side of the stage, bringing a different; almost ironic perspective to the show’s vaudeville double-act element.

John Weidman’s book manages to savour the comic possibilities of 20th century American history while also exposing the darkness of opportunism. Indeed the script has pace, energy and drive.

Director and set designer John Doyle does wonders in conjuring up a gambling den in the Yukon gold rush, a fire in a pineapple plantation, a cyclone in India, a prizefight, and a revolution in Guatemala, while driving the story along at almost breakneck speed.

But it is Stephen Sondheim’s score with its tongue-twisting and lovely melodies that makes this state-of-the-nation musical so appealing.

Doyle draws exemplary performances from his hard-working cast, most notably Michael Jibson, who subtly conveys Addison’s vulnerable, doubting nature and sexual repression, and David Bedella as his slick, charismatic brother Wilson.

This is certainly a show well worth seeking out!

Runs until September 17.

Box office: 020 7378 1713

Press: Arthur Leone PR 020 7637 2994

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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