So what if “Road Show” isn’t Stephen Sondheim’s greatest musical? In a spirited concert performance ,sprightly directed by Will Davis at Encores!, the master of late 20th century musical theatre still demonstrates that even his non-masterpieces transcend the banal pop-rock of most Broadway fare today. And so what if Jonathan Weidman, who wrote the books for Sondheim’s “Pacific Overtures” and “Assassins”, has written better characters? At least, the Mizner brothers aren't the product of a live-action version of an animated cartoon, thank god..
“Road Show” always seems unfinished and unfocused. Today, contrasting the huckster Mizner brother Wilson (Raul Esparza) with the earnest Addison (Brandon Uranowitz), the parallels between Trump grifterism and American hard work seem cliché. And looking for theme from Sondheim and Weidman about what the Mizners life says about modern America gets mushy.
Ripping a page from a Sondheim near masterpiece, “Into the Woods”, “Road Show” also comments on how parents affect kids. The Mizner’s dad (Chuck Cooper), who dies at a young age, burdens them with the need to achieve. Their mother (Mary Beth Piel) assigns affections to them that heighten their conflict. “Road Show” songs are mostly about relationships, between parents and sons, between the brothers and then between Addison and his lover Hollis Bessemer (Jin Ha).
Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations, clear as ever, serve the score and cast as reliably as always. Ms. Piel achieves the highpoint with the wistful “Isn’t He Something” that reveals a mother’s blind spot for the bad-boy son, Wilson. “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened”, arguably the sweetest love song in the Sondheim cannon, gets a fresh, youthful interpretation by the young Mr. Ha in duet with the more mature Mr. Uranowitz, who plays Addison straightforwardly. Esparza, playing a basically unlikable flim-flam man, adds lots of razzle-dazzle to Wilson; sometimes his clowning curdles to camp.
Director Davis paces it all briskly, with unexpected choreographed movement from the ensemble of ten. Shout out to the wonderful Liz McCartney who steps out from the ensemble to play the rich heiress whom Wilson marries for money. The sparse scenic design, using placards of 1920s postcards, nails time and place unobtrusively; small house models passed around by the ensemble cleverly track Addison’s architectural career in Florida. Sepia tones light the set; costumes are of a complementary palette.
“Road Show” is in the Encore! style we know and love. And with Sondheim, it’s all about the score, and that, even on a bad day, is better than most.
a bad day, is better than most.
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