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LETTERS TO EDITOR
FILM & TV
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The show has been workshopped, rewritten and re-titled — from Wise Guys to Bounce to Gold. Under it's latest title, Road Show, it's also been restaged by John Doyle. However, unlike Company and Sweeney Todd which he reconfigured for a cast of performer who also played instruments, he has placed an excellent 12-piece band in back of his smartly functional scenic design which consists of suitcases and wooden furniture arranged into multi-level performance spots.
For all the changes in script, titles, staging and casts, the show's focus is still on its two central characters, the colorful Mizner brothers and their joint and separate paths in pursuit of the American Dream of fame and fortune: Addison(1872-1933) whose world-wide search for self-actualization as well as riches ends in Florida where he became the chief architect of Florida's Palm Beach and Boca Raton with their pink-hued Spanish colonial mansions . . . the rakish, ne'er-do-well Wilson (1876-1933) — a cocaine addict, womanizer, Broadway producer and, above all a gambler (the song that characterizes him is aptly called "The Game").
The Mizners' personal stories and their various (and at times nefarious) enterprises, including a stint of panning for gold in Alaska, would probably require a three-hour production to fully depict the siblings' symbiotic love-hate relationships. So Weidman's tightened script for the book and Doyle's streamlined helmsmanship, are likely to prompt some nitpicking about unclarified details. But not from this critic.
Addison, the talented and more sensitive older brother and Willie, the rascally charmer, never got their dreams quite right (so that their father, whose deathbed song urged them to take advantage of the land of opportunity, sings a ghostly reprise as Addison lays dying: "I expected you'd make history, boys. Instead, you made a mess."). But Weidman and Doyle have got it right —not flawlessly so, but right enough. Best of all there's the familiar sound of Sondheim's always enjoyable music and his intelligent, witty lyrics.
With Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani, both seasoned Sondheim interpreters to play Wilson a.k.a Willie and Addison a.k.a Addie, the leading roles couldn't be in better hands. Add Jonathan Tunick's fine orchestrations and a golden-voiced ensemble, and Road Show, even though it shows some signs of having been diddled with a bit too much, is a welcome addition to the Sondheim's canon.
Some of the seventeen songs evoke melodies from other Sondheim musicals. The especially memorable ones include " Isn't He Something" by the dying Mama (a superb Cuervo) and "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened", a love ballad between Addison and Hollis (Claybourne Elder), the young man who becomes his backer and lover. Some of Michael Cerveris's song-spiel reminded me of the "Loveland" interludes in Follies. "Brotherly Love" defines the men's solidarity and personality differences —, Willie, eager to head for Alaska and its promise of gold, sings "You And Me Against The World!/You And Me Together,/ Weathering The Weather,/Fording The Crevasses". The more pragmatic Addison counters with "Freezing Off Our Asses."- Doyle evoked the scene where the brothers actually are freezing in Alaska with a nice abstract flourish that has them share a sleeping bag standing upright.
Ann Hould-Ward's costumes (which include outfits made with fabrics imprinted with sketches of Addison's plans for his dream city) blend well with Doyle's wooden scenery to which Jane Cox's lighting adds occasional burst of color for Willie's showiest numbers. Willie's way of inserting himself and his hucksterish ways into Addison's life (which includes marrying a rich client and detouring her fee) is poignantly summed up in Addison's tortured "Get Out" ("Get out of my life so I can live it"). Willie, an incorrigible exaggerator shrugs off his overselling the Florida land that Hollis envisioned as an artist's colony with " Is Maxwell House really good to the last drop?"
Speaking of that burst bubble of the Florida real estate boom of the '30s, neither Sondheim or Weidman intended it as a commentary on current events. Yet, the many years it took to get their show to this point, have had an unanticapted effect. Opening as it does in the midst of diminishing fortunes, burst bubbles and home foreclosures, gives Road Show an unanticipated timely edge.