At The Lyric Stage
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Spiro Veloudos and Ilyse Robbins have teamed up to co-direct Stephen Sondheim’s newest musical Road Show, now playing at the Lyric Stage. The play, with book by John Weidman, is a fast paced 90 minutes of tightly woven theatre. It is the story of two rather sleazy brothers who, while they do hold a certain attraction, in the end make us feel glad we are leaving them behind as we leave the theater.
Addison and Wilson Mizner were two real life characters who went in search of fame and fortune toward the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Centuries. They had big ideas with Wilson being the more daring, and at first seemingly the more unscrupulous of the two. There is a certain appeal to the stories of risk takers and those who follow their dreams, but by the end of the play we have had just about enough of these two. The Mizners, while rich in ideas, and in Addison’s case, talent, were also con men who were more than willing to take advantage of any poor sucker whom they came across. It is Wilson Mizner who has been credited with the now famous line “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
Even though their actions will leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth, it is still a lively and interesting story. The score by Stephen Sondheim is pure Sondheim from start to finish. And, I have to say I enjoyed every number. With a three member orchestra to back them up the performers are never competing with the instruments. Each song is clear and easy on the ears.
Tony Castellanos as Wilson gives us a character who is a fast talking con man, and like all con men, also quite charming much of the time. You’ll find yourself smiling at him while at the same time checking to be sure your wallet is still in your pocket. Neil A. Casey as Addison is the more subdued, thoughtful, and apparently kinder of the two.
When Addison begins a relationship with Hollis Bessemer (Patrick Varner), the son of a wealthy industrialist, who dreams of starting an artist’s colony in Florida, it seems we are going to see a stark contrast between the two brothers. Bessamer has been cut off by his father but is able to make introductions that enable Addison to put together real estate deals. The two begin a romantic relationship and appear to have found true love. The song You’re The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened is a very touching and tender moment in the play. Patrick Varner brings a warmth and a vulnerability to the role of Hollis that makes it that much more tragic when Addison goes back into business with Wilson and they begin fleecing investors. Whether Addison had been using Bessemer all along or whether it was really true love is a question that is left to the audience. While it is obvious Wilson always savored taking advantage of those “suckers” whether mining for gold in the Klondike, producing Broadway plays, or selling real estate in Florida, it is more ambiguous when it comes to Addison.
There is a fine supporting cast that includes Sean McGuirk as Papa Mizner and Vanessa J. Schukis as Mama Mizner as well as various prospecters, poker players, marks, and even an appearance by World Middleweight Champion Stanley Ketchel (David Makransky). Will McGarrahan, last seen at the Lyric in Souvenir, is always a welcome stage presence.
As I have written before, the team at the The Lyric Stage really knows how to put on these small scale musical productions. Mr. Veloudos and Ms Robbins work very well together. But that should not come as any surprise as both know their craft and have given audiences many great productions.
These past few years I have been getting quite an education in the work of Stephen Sondheim thanks to both the Lyric Stage and the Huntington Theatre Company. It is a delightful journey I have been fortunate to be able to join in on. I am looking forward to many more stops along the way. In the meantime, I can say with confidence you will enjoy Road Show. You may not find a place in your heart for the Mizner brothers, but you certainly will for this production.
Through February 11th
The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston