Theater Review: ‘Road Show’ at Encores Off-Center at City Center

By Jonathan Spira on 27 July 2019
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The third and final musical in the Encores Off Center Series at City Center, Stephen Sondheim’s “Road Show,” completes the trilogy of shows for the 2019 season that started with a highly introspective “Working: A Musical” based on Studs Terkel’s highly acclaimed book of interviews of the working man and woman and followed by “Promenade,” a revival of the thrilling 1960s musical.

“Road Show,” which was called “Wise Guys” at its first reading in 1997 and has undergone significant changes as it was then entitled “Gold!” and “Bounce,” attempts to tell the real-life story of Addison Mizner, who in the 1920s was the best-known architect in the United States, and his brother Wilson, a gifted raconteur, entrepreneur, and playwright who once owned the original Brown Derby restaurant, in a semi-staged production. (The other two Mizner brothers, William and Edgar, don’t rate a mention by Sondheim.)

The City Center production is essentially a revival of the version staged at the Public Theatre in 2008, albeit set as a radio drama – complete with an on-air light that is turned on with a flourish.

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The Encores orchestra, delightful as always under the baton of James Moore, appears on stage fully integrated into the sparse but effective set by Donyale Werle.  The period costumes by Clint Ramos set the tone for the Roaring 20s in which period the show is set.

“Road Show” is a love story, a Cain-and-Abel-esque story of two brothers, the death of their father (Chuck Cooper), who comes back to haunt them from time to time in a deep stentorian voice, their short-lived career as gold prospectors in Alaska, and their unsuccessful attempt as real-estate developers in Boca Raton, Florida.

Wilson (Raúl Esparza) is known for his bon mots, including a few leveraged by Sondheim such as  “Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet the same people on the way down,” and “Road Show” makes it clear that he went up and down that elevator multiple times, in part thanks to his addition to opium.

Mama Mizner (a very caring Mary Beth Peil) lives her life vicariously through Wilson’s headlines in the papers although he never comes to call, while Addison (Brandon Uranowitz)  is there as her caretaker.  She takes comfort in Wilson’s highly public playboy lifestyle, singing to the then rather dull Addison, “He’s having the time of his life, life filled to the brim. If he had the slightest sense of shame, it would be a shame.”

All of Wilson’s comings and goings as well as Addison’s later world travels “to find my road” push the boundaries of the radio show concept, although no one seems to really mind.

But Addison blooms after his mother’s death, strikes up a conversation with the rather superficial scion to the Bessemer steel fortune, Hollis Bessemer (Jin Ha, who quite possibly has the best two numbers of the show). As the two join forces to survive in Florida, they also fall in love and embrace in what may be one of the most romantic and meaningful kisses ever on a Broadway stage.

Addison shows up at the couple’s doorstep after a brief stint as a fight promoter and some other equally dubious activities, and eventually undermines Addison’s relationship with Hollis as they appear to part ways.  The brothers – especially Wilson – lived more for right now than with an eye towards the future.

“Some men live to be good, some men live to be bad, and some men live just to sparkle… Isn’t he something!”

THE DETAILS

Road Show
New York City Center
Limited engagement through July 27, 2019
New York City Center
131 W 55th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
Runtime: One hr. and 20 min.
www.nycitycenter.org

 

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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