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Musical Review— Stephen Sondheim’s “Road Show” at Encores! Off-Center

Road Show

Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by John Weidman

Directed & choreographed by Will Davis

Performances July 24-27, 2019


Raúl Esparza in Road Show (photo: Joan Marcus)


This summer’s final Encores! Off-Center offering, Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show, resurrected the composer’s biggest problem child.


Road Show—which has, in earlier incarnations beginning in 1997, been variously titled Bounce, Wise Guys, and Gold!—follows the real-life exploits of two brothers, Addison and Wilson Mizner, who initially worked together then went their separate ways, since Addison, an architect, was not the con artist Wilson was. Sondheim and book writer John Weidman’s 100-minute intermissionless journey follows the brothers from California to Alaska to New York—with quick stops in Hawaii, India, Hong Kong and Guatemala—until winding up in Florida, where Wilson’s get-rich(er) scheme at a new development named Boca Raton fails.


As in their earlier collaboration Assassins, Sondheim and Weidman wittily but with a relentless cynicism explore the seamy underside of the American success story. But—if a perusal of the brothers’ bios online is any guide—the Mizners’ lives were even more incredible and stranger than fiction than what we get here, as the show dispenses with real insights for amusing asides and a faux sentimentality that keeps our interest but only intermittently gives either of these worthy characters any depth or dramatic aliveness.


Sondheim’s score begins with a stunning opener, “Waste,” then contents itself with mainly accomplished but less remarkable tunes like the boys’ mother extolling her absent Wilson in the heartfelt ballad, “Isn’t He Something!” (sung beautifully by Mary Beth Peil) or their father’s lone contribution, “It’s in Your Hands Now” (dispatched powerfully by Chuck Cooper). If the relationship between Addison and his (fictionalized) partner/lover, Hollis (played by the ingratiating Jin Ha) isn’t presented as enough of a counterweight to the brothers’ oft-broken bond, at least Sondheim has given the lovers the show’s best song: the indescribably moving “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened.”


As the brothers, Raúl Esparza (Wilson) and Brandon Uranowitz (Addison) can’t be bettered. Uranowitz gives Addison a fervent yearning quality to complement Esparza, whose natural charisma is on display to proclaim Wilson’s ability to talk anybody into anything—including his own brother. Will Davis’ savvy directing gives added notice that, even though it remains problematic, Road Show deserves a fully-staged future production.


Road Show

New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, New York, NY

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