Spiro Veloudos, the producing artistic director of Boston’s Lyric Stage, has long admired the work of the prolific composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. During his twenty years at the Lyric, he has directed at least eight of Sondheim’s musicals. Veloudos’ latest, Road Show, which he co-directed with choreographer Ilyse Robbins has a somewhat checkered past.
Sondheim was originally drawn to the story when as a young man he read a biography of the Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson, both unsavory characters. Over the years he would create three versions of the piece with three different titles and three different directors and casts. Wise Guys, the first, which opened in 2000 in an unfinished workshop production, was written and played in a brassy comic style. In 2003 he and director Hal Prince turned out Bounce which focussed more on the brothers’ love lives. Wilson’s was heterosexual, Addison’s, homosexual. Bounce played Chicago and Washington D.C. and received poor reviews in both. In 2008 John Doyle, a highly talented British director impassioned by Sondheim’s work opened the musical under the title Road Show at the Public Theatre. In this latest and last rendition the mood and plot had changed, the show reduced to one act, the cast cut back, and the financial failure of the Mizner Brothers was in tune with the economic crisis of 2007-2008.
Although it didn’t make it big in New York Road Show continues to be produced in the U.S. The Mizner brothers’ lying, money craving, and immorality are evocative of the era in which we are living.
The show opens as the brothers’ father played by Sean McGuirk is dying. Having been left penniless by his illness, he advises his sons in “It’s in Your Hands Now” to take advantage of the upcoming twentieth century to make money and influence the American way of life. Their mother, the only developed female character in Road Show, encourages them to obey their father. Vanessa J. Schukis gives the role complexity.
Drawn by the gold rush Addison and Wilson leave for the Klondike. Addison seems honest and hardworking while Wilson is wily and self-serving. Several times during the show Wilson leaves Addison in the lurch. Both Addison and Wilson travel the world, generally separately in their attempts to acquire riches. Wilson, a gambler and philanderer with charm, is usually more successful. He marries a rich woman who supports him until disgusted by Wilson’s behavior she throws him out. Typical of Addison’s experiences is his trip to Hawaii where he buys a plantation that burns down. Though Addison is more attentive and kinder to their mother, she prefers Wilson. Over time, Addison’s unattractive side emerges.
Addison moves to Florida, develops an interest in architecture and meets Hollis Bessemer (Patrick Varner), a wealthy young man whose dream is to develop an art colony. Addison and Hollis become lovers, but Addison is more involved in building Spanish-style houses for the rich than he is with Hollis whose money is supporting his architectural business. He leads Hollis along in “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened.”
Down on his luck, an impoverished Wilson turns up in Florida and convinces Addison to let him become part of the enterprise. All goes well for a period, but due to Wilson’s unconscionable business strategies, the real estate company’s biggest project, the development of Boca Raton, collapses. Addison dies, but not before he has admitted once more to his brother that he loves him. Their relationship with its ups and downs is the most significant in their lives. Their father returns to rebuke his now two dead sons for not having contributed to the American dream.
The two leads Neil A. Casey as Addison and Tony Castellanos as Wilson are believable. Over the course of the performance, they became stronger and more passionate.
Cristina Todesco’s clever set consists of unmatched pieces of old furniture and luggage, perhaps souvenirs from Addison’s travels. Actors clamber over them during the performance, sometimes for a choreographed routine, at others for a chorus number. When the ensemble is not involved in the action, they sit on the furniture and observe the goings-on.
Road Show plays at the Lyric Stage through February 11.
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Co-Directed by Spiro Veloudos & Ilyse Robbins
Choreography by Ilyse Robbins
Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco
Costume Design by Amanda Mujica
Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski
Sound Design by Elizabeth Cahill
Neil A. Casey, Tony Castellanos, Jordan Clark, Shannon Lee Jones, Robin Long, David Makransky, Will McGarrahan, Sean McGuirk, Brandon Milardo, Vanessa J. Schukis,