The long, bumpy history of Stephen Sondheim and John Wiedman's musical, ROAD SHOW, is know to all of us Sondheim devotees. I saw its previous incarnation, BOUNCE, at the Kennedy Center. It was marred by an unimaginative production by Hal Prince who did nothing to give the work focus. ROAD SHOW, a much shortened and improved version, played at the Public Theatre in New York in a simple production by John Doyle. This was a much improved version, stripped of the fat and focusing on the relationship between the brothers. Doyle rightly realized that this was not the musical comedy the creators once intended, but something more serious. In his comments in the program to the current production at the Menier Chocolate Factory, he says the work is the last part of a Sondheim-Weidman trilogy that also includes PACIFIC OVERTURES and ASSASINS. Unfortunately the Public production was saddled by two charmless leads who made the piece too dreary. The current production at the Menier is much the same as the Public production, but now played in a transverse staging with the audience on two sides of the action, giving the work even more intimacy and power. The audience as well as the cast are constantly showered by dollar bills in this version of the American dream gone sour. Now ROAD SHOW has a cast worthy of a work, which I think belongs with the Sondheim's best. Mixed-race David Bedella and blond Michael Jibson are unlikely brothers, but they make a great duo. Bedella's Wilson is the flashy showman he is supposed to be and Jibson is heartbreaking as his adoring artistic brother, willing to give up the love of his life out of loyalty to his feckless sibling. Bedella and Jibson are supported by a fine ensemble and a great band. This intense chamber musical is a picture of forms of male-male love: the love of two brothers that verges on erotic and Addison's love for his handsome young patron, Hollis Bessemer. Ne'er do well brother Wilson, who sees life as a game, repeatedly steals what matters most to Addison, but the love is still there. The show is almost entirely sung, and Sondheim's score seems perfect for the subject matter. And, finally, there's the gay romance we all have been waiting for from The Master, even if it is one that is doomed. I plan to see it again.
ROAD SHOW. Menier Chocolate Factory. July 22, 2011