Re:View – ‘Road Show’

The Arts

Few plays have ever thrown money at the stage like this one; dollar bills literally leak from the characters until the audience is ankle-deep in the stuff. America is on the rise and there’s money to be made for the opportunists. Spanning a period of 40 years, this is the true story of two fortune-seeking brothers – architect Addison Mizner and his wiseguy brother Willy – whose need to grab at the American dream is fired by their puritanical father and takes them from panning for gold in Alaska to building the city of Boca Raton, Florida.

The Mizners’ desire to leave their mark becomes a test of morality and judgement that undermines their lives. The boys are a pair of 20th century Candides, accumulating wealth and shedding it just as quickly. Michael Jibson is superb as the nervous, doubting, closeted brother who’s happy to lead a quiet life creating art. David Bedella is a sinuous high-roller, dangerous and charming as a snake, and the dilemma they face is that they’re incomplete apart but a disaster together.

This is a recent Stephen Sondheim ‘problem’ show that started life in a different form called ‘Bounce’ (there are two album versions), but perhaps this is the best version we’ll get. There are some beautifully orchestrated songs here, including Sondheim’s most passionate love song for years, ‘You are the best thing that ever happened to me’, and an uproarious sequence in which Willy invests in decidedly doubtful projects, including a Broadway show.

The in-the-round staging at the Menier Chocolate Factory works a treat, and a large cast fills the space with the bustling rush of passing life. The score is rich in Americana and has echoes of ‘Assassins’. So what’s missing? The compression of 40 years means that Addison finds love only to lose it minutes later, and while Willy is hard to resist he’s also tricky to like. The wraparound setting of their reunion in the afterlife still feels unsatisfying – but this is a rich, exciting evening and a reminder of why the Menier’s reputation is so well deserved.