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A CurtainUp London London Review

I expected you'd make history, boys. Instead, you made a mess. — Popa Mizner
Michael Jibson as Addison and David Bedella as Wilson (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
In the tiny home of the giant killer, David Babani, London's Menier Chocolate Factory comes the first European showing of Stephen Sondheim's Road Show, the story of the two Mizner brothers, Wilson and Addison in the first few decades of the 20th century and originally called Wise Guys, then Bounce and penultimately Gold. For Elyse Sommer's review in New York in 2008, the history, plot summary and full song list, go here

For all the hype about a European premiere, the 2011 showing in London is essentially John Doyle's 2008 New York production, which he both directed and designed, recast with British actors. The wonderful David Bedella plays Willie, the more gregarious and extrovert chancer of the Mizner brothers, and Michael Jibson his quieter and more earnest brother Addie. The action centres on an iron work bed which sees the death of their father (Glyn Kerslake) and sees later action as a boat.

The show is played on a traverse stage with the audience seated either side and period wooden furniture improvising to give witty mini changes of scene. The brothers shivered in a tall wooden locker sharing a sleeping bag in the Alaskan gold fields and we believed it. From their father, there is a wonderful lyrical simile with an old rolltop desk talking about it being rough as it ascends but sadly I couldn't see a roll top desk in sight!

The Mizners' story is that of America from the bottom up. The gold rush has them gripped, and with the proceeds Willie opens a bar cum gaming casino while Addie goes on a world tour looking at investment opportunities in Hawaii, India, China and Guatemala. Later they get into property development in Florida and make money by pyramid selling hyped real estate. At each juncture, hundreds of hundred dollar bills are distributed and line the stage. At one point the green backs even rain down on the audience and at a low point two bills are used to snort cocaine.

Whilst Willie "had ladies round the block and down the hall" the real love story is between Addie and handsome rich kid, Hollis Bessemer (Jon Robyns) and their love song "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened" was a highlight of the show for me. I also enjoyed the many lively and often jokey crowd scenes, the white sun glassed society ladies hiring Addie as an architect to design elaborate houses inspired by his world tour and providing them with one up on their neighbours.

I think the changes over three decades to some of our attitudes to racial stereotyping may mean we are less tolerant of some of the comic portrayal of East Asians and Indians but maybe I need to lighten up! David Bedella is ever mischievous, a charmer with a deep voice and seems to enjoy his role and Michael Jibson is the more vulnerable brother we want to mother! The cast of thirteen work hard to bring us many, many more discernible characters and the singing is excellent. Gillian Bevan is strong as the boys' mother and Jon Robyns and Michael Jibson have beautiful voices.

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Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed and designed by John Doyle

Starring: David Bedella, Michael Jibson, Gillian Bevan, Glyn Kerslake, Jon Robyns
Adrian der Gregorian, Fiona Dunn, Sarah Ingram, Julie Jupp, Elizabeth Marsh, Christopher Ragland, Robbie Scotcher, Phil Wrigley
Costume Design: Matthew Wright
Lighting: Jane Cox
Sound: Gareth Owen
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7378 1713
Booking to 17th September 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th July 2011 performance at the Menier Chocolate Factory, 51-53 Southwark Street, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Baker Street)

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