Stephen Sondheim’s most recent musical Road Show has been through a variety of incarnations: Bounce, Wise Guys and Gold! are just some of its previous names. The story is that of Addison Mizner, an American architect, and his brother Wilson, who journeyed across America to seek their fortune from Alaska to Florida during the early twentieth century.
The tale is told in flashback: John Weidman’s book sees the dying Addison look back on his life wondering what happened and how his talent went to waste. We then see how the brothers were left to fend for themselves after the death of their father, and despite initially heading out to seek their fortunes together, soon separated to follow their own paths.
As might be expected, the plot moves quickly: we’re in and out of the Alaskan gold rush almost before we know it, and Addison’s trip round the world, during which he gains most of his subsequent architectural inspiration, is done with in one (albeit rather catchy) song. However, this is enough for us to gain understanding of the brothers’ complex relationship, and things slow down as Addison reaches Florida for long enough for us to care about his relationship with business partner and lover Hollis Bessemer.
Howard Jenkins and Andre Refig give strong, believable performances as the brothers Addison and Wilson, with Steve Watts very good as the older Addison and Joshua LeClair appealing as Hollis. The supporting cast give praiseworthy performances as the various characters the brothers meet on their journeys. The score isn’t quite as strong as most Sondheim, but there are some standout numbers: I particularly liked “Isn’t He Something”, Mama Meisner’s (Cathryn Sherman) hymn to her feckless but charming son Wilson, and “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened”, the love duet of Addison and Hollis.
The show is flawed: it has an uneven pace and some of the narrative choices seemed unconvincing, such as Addison’s behaviour towards Hollis towards the end. However, it is a must-see for Sondheim completists and this Union Theatre production is a strong one.