Road Show

January 14, 2018

in Musicals, Plays

Musical (2008)
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman

Co-Directed by Spiro Veloudos and Ilyse Robbins
Music Director: Jonathan Goldberg

Choreography: Ilyse Robbins; Scenic Design: Cristina Todesco

Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square area, Boston
January 12 – February 11, 2018

With Neil A. Casey (Addison Mizner), Tony Castellanos (Wilson Mizner), Patrick Varner (Hollis Bessemer, Jockey), Vanessa J. Schukis (Mama Mizner, Mrs. Trumbauer), Sean McGuirk (Papa Mizner, Mr. Stotesbury), Jordan Clark (Mrs. Yerkes, Mrs. Wannamaker), Shannon Lee Jones (Mrs. Stotesbury, Mary Monahan), Will McGarrahan (Prospector, Businessman, Real-Estate Agent, Mr. Trumbauer), Robin Long (Mrs. Cosden), David Makransky (Mr. Cosden), Brandon Milardo (Mr. Dupont)

Tony Castellanos as Wilson Mizner, Neil A. Casey as Addison Mizner, Patrick Varner as Hollis Bessemer, with the cast in 'Road Show'

Tony Castellanos as Wilson Mizner
Neil A. Casey as Addison Mizner
Patrick Varner as Hollis Bessemer
with the cast
in “Road Show”
Photo: Maggie Hall
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

A thoroughly competent and sometimes rousing account of the latest Stephen Sondheim musical, now ten years old, based on the historic lives of the Mizner brothers who made their names as con artists in business during the first part of the twentieth century.

Addison Mizner (Neil A. Casey) and Wilson Mizner (Tony Castellanos) are brothers, ill fated to go into business together. Wilson is clearly a shyster and continually draws Addison into ventures and schemes that go South. When Addison gets involved, professionally and personally, with Hollis Bessemer (Patrick Varner), a big project draws Wilson out of the woodwork and the promise is great but the danger is greater.

Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

Artistic director Spiro Veloudos, who co-directed this production with director and choreographer Ilyse Robbins, noted in a talkback after the show that the three musicals Sondheim did with John Weidman, Pacific Overtures (1976), Assassins (1990), and Road Show (2008), all have something to do with the perversion of the American Dream and its associated sensibilities. Whereas Pacific Overtures explores the cultural and economic invasion of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century by the United States, Assassins looks into the lives and minds of the “independent” Americans who made names for themselves as assassins or attempted assassins of political leaders. In line with that general theme of American ventures gone wrong falls this latest Sondheim effort, Road Show, which traces the lives of the historic Mizner brothers who tried and failed in business, always attempting something grand and making a mess of it.

The show had a run at the Public Theater in New York, went through various versions and iterations, and appeared ever so briefly on Broadway. The show has its many moments, but one might argue that its narrative, though interesting, is a bit problematic in a variety of ways. While telling the tale of the ill-fated brothers, it also tries to tell a love story – in this case, it’s a homosexual one, though in one of the earlier variants of the show it was heterosexual – and to envision, along the way, the dream of an artists’ colony. There’s a lot going on here – perhaps a bit too much – though there are some very witty lyrics and moving songs that filter throughout. It definitely bears all the emblems of Sondheim’s genius, and were the narrative shaped and focused a bit more the show might have earned generally broader appeal. Of the three Weidman-Sondheim collaborations, this one has the most personal and affecting story, and is, in that sense, more accessible than the other two. But the narrative tries to grapple with too much and, when all is said – and sung – it does not cohere as successfully as it might.

Addison Mizner (1872-1933)

Addison Mizner (1872-1933)

The two brothers – played by Neil A. Casey and Tony Castellanos – do a fine job. Casey’s Addison is the dowdier of the two, more reserved, the one who falls for the younger guy. Castellanos’ Wilson is the true shyster – overly adored by his mother (played by Vanessa J. Schukis), who sings an appallingly adoring song about her errant son who screws up everything in sight.

Patrick Varner plays the younger man, Hollis Bessemer, the business partner and the lover, and does a beautiful job conveying, through lovely singing and sympathetic depiction, the unwitting innocence of the role.

There is a lot of tough music here, a good amount of seriously layered harmony and counterpoint, and many complex ensembles with a huge cast of solos weaving in and out of one another. Music director Jonathan Goldberg has done a fine job of pulling it all together, though one can hear, at various points, the signs of the obvious challenges of the score. The company does rise to the challenging occasion most competently.

Sondheim’s wit is readily apparent as the songs unfold. When he gets going, the lyrics are as sharp and unnervingly funny as in any of his notably great songs, and it is this that makes it really worth going to see and hear this show.

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins and staging by Robbins and Spiro Veloudos, are done very well, with a solid supporting cast. The set by Cristina Todesco is compactly inventive and serves to support the winding narrative with its many sites and byways.

Indeed, the narrative here tries to encompass too much to make the show, as a whole, match the truly great Sondheim works. But it is interesting and bizarrely engaging as a part of the tripartite Sondheim-Weidman Weird America puzzle, certainly worth seeing for that reason alone, for some top-notch Sondheim songs and lyrics, and for the very fine effort put forth by the Lyric in bringing this little performed work by this great master of the modern musical to the Boston stage.

– BADMan

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