Road Show Road Trip

Like Dennis really needs any more miles on him, but how could we miss this? Two of our favorite actors (Alex Gemignani and Michael Cerveris) in the latest Sondheim musical, on Jenna’s birthday. Formerly known as Bounce, formerly formerly known as Wise Guys, and now called Road Show (which see for the plot summary). This is the show we saw in Chicago, at which we met the man himself.

Jenna with Steph...  Sondh....!

Jenna and her dad with Steph... Sondh....!

Or rather, this was the show we saw. It’s been heavily reworked. The invented love interest is gone, as are half an hour of the show and the intermission. Also the lack of a theme is conspicuously absent. One problem it had as Bounce was that it was just a bunch of stuff that happens. Now with the addition of various star gobos, stripes, and reds, whites, and blues in various places, it relates the errors the Mizner brothers make to a wider American psyche. In fact, Cerveris gets to re-speak a line, “This is America too!” that he said (as John Wilkes Booth) to Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins.

The presence of Cerveris as Wilson Mizner and Gemignani (who played Leon Czolgosz in Assassins) as Addison Mizner are not the only similarities between the two shows. In the case of Assassins, it was the violent underbelly of the American dream that was under discussion; in Road Show it’s greed. So let’s see, Sondheim is 78 and he’s still got lust, gluttony, sloth, envy and pride to go. He’d better get writing. Oh, and of course both shows have a book by John Weidman.

The theme of greed is reinforced by the tossing of what must be literally thousands of (fake, I’m sad to say) hundred dollar bills, multiple times in every scene. By the end the stage, and most of the first three rows, were covered in money.

I’m very happy with the reworking of the characters. As Bounce, it left me wondering why the hell Addison would listen to Wilson by the end of the show, Wilson being a total asshole from start to finish. As Joss Whedon says, “Not much of an arc.” Now Wilson start out a little leery of the world, much more of an insecure Momma’s boy. That makes his mother’s song “Isn’t he Something” much stronger as a reason for Wilson’s development, as well as making Wilson just a more interesting character.

Addison is also more completely drawn. I loved watching Gemignani’s reaction during the aforementioned song, in which the mother explains to Addison why she loves Wilson so much (and oh of course I love you too dear, but isn’t Wilson wonderful?) There were layers of anger, sadness, and resignation in his face that further solidified my opinion of Gemignani as one of the best musical theatre actors working. I think his father Paul needs no longer leave the room in nervousness when Alex is auditioning for a show Paul is music directing.

The show is really a series of vignettes taking you through the chapters of the brothers’ lives, which somewhat surprisingly works better than the more through-composed book it had before. The bookends, in which the brothers are already dead, remain, as does the final line, “If we keep trying, eventually we’ll get it right.” Which after this many iterations takes on a special meaning for this show.

It didn’t hurt that the set and lighting were fantastic. The set was an antique-hunter’s dream; steamer trunks, tables, wardrobes, and sets of wooden architect’s drawers were stacked up to provide dozens of heights and spaces for the cast, all of whom were on stage the entire time. Very unlike the previous incarnation, and very John Doyle. A clever combination of a light straw gel and a bluer gel for highlights gave the whole setup a remarkably sepia look. And when I say “clever”, I mean “I’m going to steal that someday.”

So yeah, great directing, great acting, great singing, a much-improved arc, a real theme (which they thought up before the current housing meltdown, thankyouverymuch), and a shorter, tighter show. What’s not to like?

Then afterwards, we got to have dinner with Casey Jones. At one of the best Chinese restaurants ever. Yay!

Definitely worth the drive.

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