Book by John Weidman
Directed by Gary Griffin
Musical Direction by Michael Mahler
At the Upstairs stage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago
“Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet the same people on your way down” – Wilson Mizner
Creative staging and fine cast can’t save Road show
For fifteen years, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman have been trying to make their chamber musical about Addison (1872-1933) and Wilson (1876-1933) Mizner into a worthy musical. I saw it when it was called Bounce at the Goodman Theatre in 2004. It is now Road Show, shorter (a 95 minute one act) and trimmer with most of the players doubling as musicians. Gary Griffin, a devote Sondheim interrupter , has tried to make this show work but the inherent problems make his valiant efforts difficult.
The main problem is John Weidman’s book that quite superficially presents the Mizner brothers with a too broad a scope. The brothers, as presented, are two con men out to fleece the public on their way to pursuing the American Dream. Addison is presented, despite terrific work by Michael Aaron Lindner, as a weak personality who is a failed as a con man and who was completely subservient to his younger brother. Wilson, played nicely by Andrew Rothenberg, is presented as a shiftless, ruthless and charming entrepreneurial con man whose addiction to cocaine and gambling made him always in need of cash. As presented, there isn’t much to like between the two; Addison is a hapless failure; Wilson is an unreliable coke head. I simply didn’t care about their adventures.
Sondheim’s score features a piano (deftly played by Matt Deitchman), with intermittent other instruments chiming in, was bland and forgettable filled with much ‘talk-songs’ or singing dialogue that, after a while, rendered the singers sound remarkably alike. That style wears thin quickly. Better to have more actual songs. This musicality of language operetta style presents difficulty for some of the cast. Only Lindner and Larry Adams (Papa Mizner) seemed to conquer it. I just don’t appreciate singing much of the dialogue; rather I desire more songs that come out of character and further the story as in traditional musicals. If you want to produce an operetta, then do so. I’m not sure what Sondheim was striving for?
The story about the colorful Mizner brothers just didn’t “sing” for me, at least not with those bland songs that the fine cast struggled to make worthy. Road Show is recommended for devout Sondheim enthusiasts and lovers of provocative chamber musicals. But, old-time musical traditionalist like me may fined Road Show tedious despite the innovative staging and expert cast.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 21, 2014
For more info checkout the Road Show page at theatreinchicago.com
At Chicago Shaespears theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL, call 312-595-5600. for show days and times: www.chicagoshakes.com, tickets $48, running time is 95 minutes without intersession, through May 4. 2014