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