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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
ROAD SHOW
at Menier Chocolate Factory

AMERICAN DREAM
By JOHN NATHAN

  Michael Jibson and David Bedella/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

“Sooner or later we’re bound to get it right,” says Wilson Mizner (David Bedella) to his brother Addison (Michael Jibson). Stephen Sondheim and book writer John Weidman must have said the same thing to each other over the years since the first incarnation of their musical in 1999. 
 
Just like the real-life Mizner brothers, who in the late 19th century determinedly chased their version of the American dream, so Sondheim and Weidman never gave up on theirs: that one day for Road Show – which was previously known as Bounce and before then Gold and prior to that Wise Guys – the show’s faults would be ironed out and it would take its place alongside the writers’ more esoteric offerings, Pacific Overtures and Assassins
 
If anything was going to succeed where previous directors Harold Prince and Sam Mendes had failed, it was going to be the combination of London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and director John Doyle, each of whom have an astounding track record when it comes to reinventing Sondheim musicals. 
 
It was Menier producer David Babani who revived Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music; it was Doyle who worked wonders with his chamber version of Sweeney Todd. And so close does Doyle come to making the Mizner story work, someone ought to give him one of Addison’s Havana cigars. 
 
For the show he first directed at New York’s Public Theatre in 2008, Doyle bisects the Menier’s audience with a traverse stage. And although the band has been cut from 13 musicians down to eight to accommodate the venue's intimate space, it remains very rich in sound. 
 
The action is propelled back and forth between two piles of old wooden furniture (design by Doyle) as the brothers set out to achieve their late father’s ambition by prospecting for gold and gambling their winnings. 
 
When cautious Addison breaks away from reckless Willy to find his own path in life, Addison travels the world, invests in one failing scheme after the next until he discovers that he has a talent for architecture and an ambition to build America’s future. Meanwhile, charismatic Willy becomes a successful promoter until, chastened by eventual failure, he turns up in Palm Beach where his successful brother is building follies for the super rich. 
 
All this is contained in a beautifully sung uninterrupted 100 minutes, almost an hour less than Harold Prince’s production. A suave "Bedella" and fevered "Jibson" make for contrasting foils, embodying the enterprising yin and talented yang that makes America tick. The evening’s motif comes in the form of hundreds of dollar bills that are flung into the air like confetti. 
 
Sondheim is lyrically and melodically in terrific form, simultaneously romanticising the search for a fulfilling life and being cynical about the forces that get in the way. And because Doyle funnels the action into a narrow corridor, flanked on each side by the audience, the production zips along with the speed and energy of a riptide. 
 
Yet there is still time to realize that we care less than we want to about the fate of the Mizner brothers. It has something to with what the show is trying to say. This show is about the unbreakable bond between brothers and the price of chasing the American dream. It is also about how difficult it is to fulfill talent and how one kind of love, such as that between Addison and Willy, can be destructive, while another kind – between Addison and his high society partner Hollis – can be creative. In fact, Road Show, so brimful of meaning, is about all these things. But despite the honing of Weidman’s book, it still refuses to make you feel that the story has much relevance beyond the people who are in it. 
 
As you would expect with Sondheim, dazzling wit merges into aching poignancy, especially where, than

 


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