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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Road Show
Menier Chocolate Factory   Summer 2011

A new Stephen Sondheim musical is an event, even if it's not all that new and not all that good, and Sondheim buffs will certainly want to see this European premiere, if only to discover what all the fuss was about. 

Sondheim had been thinking since the 1950s about a musical about the Mizner brothers, colourful figures who individually and together made and lost several fortunes in the early 20th Century. 

He began serious work on it in the early 1990s, and the show was repeatedly workshopped and given trial runs under various titles, when it wasn't being tied up in litigation with erstwhile producers.

The current version of John Weidman's script was edited and shaped by director John Doyle for a 2008 New York production, which he has now further reshaped and restaged for the Menier.

The biggest problem with this show, it is now clear, is that Sondheim and Weidman got as far as the idea of a play about the Mizners, but never actually found the play itself.

Even with Doyle's editing, Road Show is an unstructured linear story with no particular shape, focus or point. The brothers go through life, taking turns being successful while the other is down, and then die.

There are hints of sibling rivalry, hints at a tortoise-and-hare structure with the flashier Wilson hitting his peak sooner than the plodding Addison but burning out, and vaguer and more frustrating hints that at some stage in its writing and rewriting Sondheim and Weidman intended a metaphor or comment on the American Dream a century ago.

But what we get is a string of episodes of the brothers' various ups and downs, in this order only because that's more-or-less the way it happened (Of course the writers do take big liberties with history), but really going nowhere.

And of course it is punctuated by about fifteen Sondheim songs, which are the reason most people will come to see Road Show – only, I fear, to be disappointed. 

There is one excellent song in the score, ironically one that had been cut in the various rewritings and was resurrected by John Doyle, the lovely 'The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened.' 

The best of the rest either have melodic echoes of Sunday In The Park With George or feel like out-takes from Merrily We Roll Along, while what remains are uninteresting generic songs that could have been written by anyone.

John Doyle's direction cleverly utilises a transverse stage at the Menier and makes effective use of a protean chorus, and there is an energetic performance by David Bedella as Wilson and a more winsome one by Michael Jibson as Addison.

The main reason to see Road Show is the opportunity to finally experience a work that had become almost mythic in its unavailability. And for true Sondheim fans that may well be reason enough.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Road Show - Menier 2011