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Road Show

Published July 7, 2011

Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show has journeyed for over a decade, through rewrites, new titles and shifting directors, to receive its European premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

The intimate fringe venue has a reputation for producing fine small scale Sondheims, with its productions of A Little Night Music and Sunday In The Park With George making their own journeys to both the West End and Broadway. So the much-travelled Road Show has a lot to live up to.

What arrives in Southwark is a tale of brothers, of family, of the American Dream and of the corrupting lure of the almighty dollar.

The Mizner siblings, Wilson (David Bedella) and Addison (Michael Jibson) are tasked with finding their road through life in the deathbed song of their father (Glyn Kerslake). In turn of the century America, this leaves a world of opportunity available to them: the gold rush, the land rush and a host of possibilities in between. But while Bedella’s grinning Wilson – who has more than a touch of PT Barnum about him – takes every dubious chance possible to get rich quick, Jibson’s honest, earnest Addison is left feeling there is more to his father’s wishes than the pursuit of cash.

In fact, there is so much cash thrown around in 95 minutes at the Menier that it puts the football transfer window to shame. The floor is left a veritable carpet of notes as fortunes are made and squandered.

Love rears its head in the form of Jon Robyns’s idealistic rich-boy-turned-artistic-philanthropist Hollis Bessemer, but Road Show is far more concerned with familial affection than anything baser.

Arguably Road Show lacks the emotional depth of the Menier’s last two Sondheim shows, though the tearing at Addison’s heart, when he knows that resisting the pull of the brother he loves is the right option, is clear to see in Jibson’s watery eyes, especially as, in this traverse setting, the audience, sat on either side of the stage, is rarely far from the action.

There’s no Send In The Clowns among the score, though The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened has a jaunty Cole Porter feel and Mama Mizner’s wistful glorification of Wilson, Isn’t He Something!, manages to be both exalting and painful.

Director John Doyle, who originally worked with Sondheim and Weidman to shape Road Show for an American outing in 2008, uses an eight-strong ensemble to play every other role, watching the brothers’ life story unfold when they are not directly involved and lurking amid Doyle’s set, bookended with stacked furniture and crates, reminiscent of the bric-a-brac store you might find down a rainy alleyway.

MA

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