Getting into the elevator following Signature Theatre’s production of Road Show, one woman was overheard saying to her friend: “I liked West Side Story better.” The musicals have Stephen Sondheim in common. (He wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, the music and lyrics for Road Show.) But while revivals of West Side Story often receive rave reviews, including the recent one at Signature, Road Show has always been a harder sell. In fact, the musical’s journey, which included a lawsuit, title changes, and a total overhaul, resembles in many ways the story it tells of two brothers who criss cross the country in search of success but instead meet with disappointment.
Yet for true Sondheim fans, Road Show should not be missed. And Signature’s production, which benefits from substantive changes made during the musical’s run at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, features an enthusiastic and talented cast, smart direction, creative staging, appealing period perfect costumes, and musical accompaniment evocative of the early 1900s. Songs are quintessential Sondheim, with clever, fast-paced lyrics that compliment the action and move the story along.
Noah Racey and Cast
Road Show is the fictional story of Addison Mizner and his brother, Wilson. Following the death of their father, their mother encourages them to go out and seek their fortune. They begin that quest in Alaska, hoping to strike it rich during the gold rush. They do find gold but Wilson, a compulsive gambler who has a talent for manipulating people, loses their claim in a poker game. Addison leaves in disgust and ends up in New York. He shows promise as an architect, and lands his first client, a rich widow, who wants him to design a pool house. Before he can do that, however, Wilson shows up, seduces the widow, marries her, and fritters away her fortune on boxing matches and horse races.
Matthew Schleich, Josh Lamon and Noah Racey
After their mother dies, Addison travels to Florida lured by the state’s land boom. Soon, he’s building mansions for the wealthy in Palm Beach. He also takes a lover, Hollis Bessemer, the son of a wealthy industrialist who has been cut off by his father. Hollis’ dream is to create an artists’ colony, but that plan is put on hold while the two enjoy each other and their new found wealth. When Wilson shows up, once again down on his luck, he comes up with a scheme to build a new city, Boca Raton. Once Hollis is convinced, Addison agrees, but Wilson’s plan is soon revealed as a scam. Addison loses everything – his wealth, his lover, and his reputation. The two brothers end up where they began, penniless and alone.
Josh Lamon and Noah Racey
Without two strong leads, the story would fall flat. Fortunately, casting here is inspired. As Addison, Josh Lamon is the larger stage presence but he’s putty in his brother’s hands. Lamon’s body language and facial expressions speak volumes, showing the conflict that he suffers whenever he must weigh the love he feels for his brother against doing what’s right. Noah Racey’s Wilson is the charming rogue, able to win over most everyone he meets. Yet when Racey flashes that Cheshire cat grin, we know there’s malice behind those good looks.
Each member of the supporting cast assumes more than one role. Transformations are skillfully managed and each character appears distinct. A large map of the U.S. serves as a backdrop while small lights pinpoint the brothers’ travels. Scenery while minimal, works well, creating the right atmosphere without distracting from the action.
Road Show isn’t Sondheim’s best. But it is Sondheim and true fans will find much to discuss after this road show.
Photos by Margot Schulman
Opening: Noah Racey, Josh Lamon, and Sherri L. Edelen
4200 Campbell Avenue
Directed by Gary Griffin
Music Direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
With Erin Driscoll, Sherri L. Edelen, Stefan Alexander Kempski, Jason J. Labrador, Josh Lamon, Jake Mahler, Dan Manning, Angela Miller, Noah Race, Matthew Schleich, and Bobby Smith