Sondheim's Road Show in Chicago
Fans of Stephen Sondheim have waited for his next big thing for over 10 years. Through those 10 years we have received two new shows. The thing is, they were the same two shows. Bounce about the Mizner Brothers and Road Show about the Mizner Brothers. I was able to see both shows in Chicago. Bounce in 2003 and Road Show this March, 2014. The difference was night and day. Bounce was just fine nothing more. It was too large and clunky. That was quite surprising seeing how it was directed by Hal Prince. The Road Show of 2014 is sleek, small and much better. The theater at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is hands down the best place to see any show. It sat maybe 40 people. My seat was in the balcony and the stage was directly below me. It was so intimate that I felt like I was seeing a Shakespearean play back in the 1800's. The ten years of work between Bounce and Road Show paid off. If you have a chance to see it, see it. Directed by Gary Griffin, he stream lines this play down to 95 minutes. It moves so quickly that you don't have time to consider much. You just go along for the ride. The plot of the show follows two real Americans, Addison and Willie Mizner, whose pursuit of the American Dream takes them to Alaska, to New York, to Florida. I feel that any good piece of art should reflect the times we live in now. I couldn't help but think that this time of America has past us. The time when you could pick up and create a new life in a new frontier of America. This show takes place in the turn of the last century when you actually could go move from one class to another. The highlight of the show is the one, two punch of the songs Addison's Trip and That Was A Year. I looked across the sold out, small audience and every single person was smiling during these numbers. Isn't that what great theater is about? These two infectious numbers surprise you with cast entrances and use of musical instruments. The ease of how Sondheim can encompass years of these character's lives in two songs is a marvel and the reason that he is the greatest Broadway composer ever. The direction was also perfect. The enjoyment of these two numbers is worth the price of admission. What you want most from Sondheim is for him to have a rhyme that you never saw coming. Both of these numbers do that.
As was the same with Bounce, the show does flounder when it gets to Boca Raton. I felt in both shows that this section was too lengthy with songs that were merely average. That is a part of the problem with being the greatest living composer, not every song is going to hit the mark. I am not sure the creating of this city is as interesting as the writers think it is. The Boca Raton scheme may just not be an exciting "third act" kind of a story. Unfortunately, it was the third act of their lives. I think the songs could have been more interesting at this section but it certainly doesn't wipe away the enjoyment of the first two thirds the show. Road Show will never be up to the levels of Company or Sweeney Todd in the Sondheim canon but it certainly surpasses all the Juke Box Musicals that are being written today. If you are a fan of Sondheim and you want a chance to see his latest musical performed at the top of its game, I suggest you head to the Windy City and see this show.
Read my Blog review of Merrily We Roll Along in Cincinnati directed by John Doyle.
Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes to download and catch up on episodes.
Check out my podcast with the editor of Six By Sondheim
Check out my podcast interview with the director of Elaine Stritch Shoot me
Look for my latest article to be published in The Spring edition of The Sondheim Review.