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A CurtainUp DC Review
Road Show
"There's a road straight ahead
There's a century beginning
There's a land of opportunity and more"

Papa Mizner to his sons, Addison and Wilson.
road show
Josh Lamon and Noah Racey (Photo by Margot Schulman)
It has been a long and bumpy journey for Road Show, the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman musical now playing at Signature Theatre. Beginning in 1999 with a workshop directed by Sam Mendes, there have been four scripts, three titles (Wise Guys, Bounce, and now Road Show), three directors and three out-of-town tryouts. While it is not Sondheim's best work, nor Weidman's, it has morphed into an enjoyable musical. (Curtainup reviewed two productions, one at the Public Theater in New York and one by same director in London)

The songs are very Sondheimesque — complex lyrics over a difficult score — redolent of rhymes one has heard before. Not that that matters. The story, which fascinated Sondheim for years, concerns the Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson, who embraced their father's wish that they take "the road straight ahead" in this "land of opportunity... now it's up to you, see it through. " And they did, with varying degrees of success and failure.

Addison and Wilson could not be more alike and more different. Addison is pudgy and, or so he thinks, constantly in the shadow of Wilson, the older, better looking, risk taking andcharming ladies. He wins some and loses some. The same can be said of Addison, but somehow he's the brother who has to work harder for all that he attains. This boom and bust again and again theme becomes repetitive and predictable.

Beginning with going to Alaska for the 1890's Gold Rush, the brothers individually and together pursue one get-rich-quick project after another; for instance, the property boom in the newly developing state of Florida. Addison's ambitions are abetted by his marriage to a wealthy widow, Mrs. Yerkes, played with imperious posture by Angela Miller; Wilson's by his business and personal partnership with the aristocratic pretty boy Hollis Bessemer played by sweet-voiced Matthew Schleigh. Bessemer has scruples that are definitely not in line with the do-whatever-it-takes Mizner brothers who ultimately lose all but each other.

What makes Road Show such an endearing piece is the love/hate relationship between the perfectly cast siblings, Josh Lamon and Noah Racey. Both performances are superb. Racey brings charisma to his sales pitch, particularly in "The Game" — so much so that it is easy to dismiss the fact that, at heart he is an Elmer Gantry-like charlatan, a snake oil salesman. Lamon is heart-breaking in "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened," the duet he sings with Schleigh a that surely will live on in cabarets and at weddings for years to come.

As the brothers' parents, Papa (Dan Manning), a stern bass urging his sons to make him proud, gives a solid performance as does Mama (Sherri Edelen), as a housewife who admits to living "through" her children, an emotion exemplified in her solo "Isn't He Something."

As Addison and Wilson move around the globe (wonderfully represented by a huge map covering the fourth wall) searching for their next get-rich-quick scheme, they encounter many characters. Each has with a different accent such as A Prospector, Businessman/Paul Armstrong/Real Estate Agent — and all played convincingly by Bobby Smith. The rest of the supporting cast is musically sound with only adequate acting.

As always Jon Kalbfleisch's music direction is flawless. Pianist Jacob Kidder deserves much credit for setting the scene with Scott Joplin-like rags and honky tonk piano playing. He has one brief line and it is a good one. Other instruments (played by the actors) include drums, fiddle and, most notably, a sour-noted tuba for brief interludes.

Scott Davis's raked stage set with the audience on three sides, works extremely well, especially given Joel Shier's good lighting.

To have pulled the show together from its checkered past, brought together its disparate strands and turned it into a production worthy of Stephen Sondheim (admittedly a lesser Sondheim musical but a Sondheim musical nonetheless) must have been no small feat. Much credit for this success goes to Director Gary Griffin.

When I saw the pre-Road Show Bounce at the Kennedy Center years ago, I thought it landed with a thud. The production ended with Addison and Wilson walking off stage, arm in arm, into the sunset. Corny, no? Their line was "sooner or later we are going to get it right." It took a while and some judicious pruning, but Messrs. Sondheim, Weidman, Griffin, and particularly Josh Lamon and Noah Racey as the brothers, got it right. As it is now, Road Show seems good enough for the long haul.
Road Show
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music Direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
Scenic Design by Scott Davis
Costume Design by Ivania Stack
Lighting Design by Joel Shier
Sound Design by Lane Elms
Cast: Erin Driscoll (Mrs. Cosden/Mary Monahan/Ensemble); Sherri L. Edelen (Mama Mizner/Eva Stotesbury/Ethel Mudd/Ensemble); Stefan Alexander Kempski (Jockey/Mr. Cosden/Ensemble); Jason J. Labrador (Mr. Phipps/Servant/Winthrop Tippet/Ensemble); Josh Lamon (Addison Mizner); Jake Mahler (Edward Stotesbury/Excited Man/Ensemble); Dan Manning (Papa Mizner); Angela Miller (Myra Yerkes/Mrs. Trumbauer/Boca Girl/Ensemble); Noah Racey (Wilson Mizner); Matthew Schleigh (Stanley Ketchel/Hollis Bessemer/Ensemble); Bobby Smith (Prospector/The Businessman/Paul Armstrong/Real Estate Agent/Mr. Trumbauer/Ensemble); Jacob Kidder (piano).
Run time: one hour and forty minutes, no intermission.
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.; February 16 to March 13, 2016; tickets from $40. 703-820-9771;
Review by Susan Davidson based on February 23, 2016 performance.

Musical Numbers

What a Waste/Company
It's in Your Hands Now/Papa Mizner
Brotherly Love/Addison and Wilson
The Game/Wilson
Addison's Trip/Company
New York Sequence/Company
Isn't He Something/Mama
Land Boom/Real Estate Agent
The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened/Addison and Hollis
The Game (Reprise)/ Wilson
Addison's City/Addison, Hollis and Wilson
Boca Raton/Company
Get Out/Addison
Finale/Addison and Wilson
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