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Road Show

Stephen Sondheim's musical about the real-life Mizner brothers receives its European premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

By London
David Bedella and Michael Jibson in Road Show
(© Catherine Ashmore)
David Bedella and Michael Jibson in Road Show
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Stephen Sondheim's Road Show, now receiving its European premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory in John Doyle's hit-and-miss production, is based on the exploits of the real-life Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson (Michael Jibson and David Bedella).

Exhorted by their dying father to make him proud and seize every opportunity that comes their way, the brothers head out on a very American journey. After an abortive attempt to strike gold in the Yukon, they head east where their paths diverge, the charismatic Wilson marrying a wealthy widow while Addison tries to fulfill his dream of becoming an architect.

While Wilson coasts on his charm and way with words -- and is not opposed to a snort of coke or a slug of whiskey -- Addison is more determined and driven, with a degree of real talent. The brothers eventually reunite to build the resort town of Boca Raton, Florida, but they get drunk on dreams and promise more than they can deliver.

The production, though spirited, is oddly flat to begin with, and only starts to exert a grip in its later stages when Addison glimpses a chance of happiness with the idealistic, wealthy Hollis Bessemer (Jon Robyns). Although their relationship isn't as developed as it could be, it is the source of one of the production's strongest numbers, "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened."

Doyle, who places the band at one end of the narrow stage, accentuates the vaudevillian quality of the work. When playing their characters in boyhood, Bedella and Jibson -- both of whom are energetic and engaging -- spar with each other like Laurel and Hardy. However, a later number, "Addison's Trip," which is laden with cultural stereotypes in a nod to the show's roots as a pastiche of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road movies, feels like a misjudgment.

Bedella has a mighty, resonant voice which is used to convey Wilson's skill as orator, while Jibson evokes Addison's more complicated character, his struggle with his own ideals. The ensemble also works well together, with Gillian Bevan standing out as the brothers' doting, forgiving Ma.

Doyle hammers home his point about the allure of wealth, showering the stage with money. Dollar bills rain from fists, carpeting the floor and alighting on the audience. Elsewhere, there is a subtler use of American iconography, with Wilson sporting ruby tap shoes and Hollis appearing white-suited and gleaming like Jay Gatsby. Occasionally, the brothers bend to snort coke of the floor; when they do this it appears as if they are trying to inhale the money itself, which seems entirely fitting.


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