You’re unlikely to see a fully-staged local production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s twice-flopped Road Show any time soon, all the more reason for those in attendance yesterday at Musical Theatre Guild’s one-performance-only concert staged reading to count themselves lucky, particularly since the nearly fully-staged “reading” turned out quite spectacularly indeed under Richard Israel’s ever imaginative direction.

Probably only those in the Sondheim know can tell you anything about Road Show, so here’s a brief bit of background.

unnamed 5 Like the once workshopped Wise Guys, redubbed Bounce in 2003 when it was a two-acter that never made it from Chicago and D.C. to New York, the intermissionless Road Show, which did play briefly off-Broadway in 2008, tells the fact-based tale of the Mizner Brothers, Addison and Wilson (MTG’s Craig McEldowney and Will Collyer), whose early 20th-century “Road Trip” across the U.S. from Alaska to Florida and places in between was a colorful one to say the least, with plenty of money won, earned, and lost along the way.

Told as a series of occasionally surreal flashbacks seen through the eyes of the recently deceased Addison, Road Show introduces us to the brothers’ Papa (Michael G. Hawkins) and Mama (Eileen Barnett) and Addie’s architect lover (Zachary Ford as the fictional Hollis Bessemer), with a Greek Chorus (Christopher Carothers, Joshua Finkel, Marc Ginsburg, Pamela Hamill, Scott Harlan, Barbara Carlton Heart, Tonilyn Hornung, and Carol Kline) standing in for assorted high-and-low rollers, most notably the hoi polloi of Palm Beach, whose wholehearted embrace of Addie’s spectacularly designed mansions led the brothers to formulate their greatest scheme of all, to build “Addison’s City” and call it Boca Raton.

unnamed 4 Never less than interesting and entertaining, if not the out-and-out compelling tale Sondheim and Weidman were doubtless aiming for, Road Show’s friction-fraught brothers recall Merrily We Roll Along’s often estranged songwriters Franklin Sheppard and Charlie Kringas, even as Sondheim’s melodies keep you thinking, wasn’t this song in Merrily, or was that one in Follies?

Still, even Sondheim at his most self-derivative is still Sondheim, which is more than enough reason to give Road Show a listen, and since the musical’s posthumous dream-flashback format lends itself to a less-than-literal staging and design, this is one MTG concert staged reading that could easily have been mistaken for a fully-staged production if you took away the performer’s scripts.

Despite a mere twenty-five hours of rehearsal, Road Show went off without a hitch, with not a weak link in a cast headed by McEldowney doing his most sensational work to date. As for Will Collyer’s Wilson, is the MTG treasure capable of anything but a charismatic star turn? (The question is rhetorical.)

unnamed 2 Road Show is noteworthy as the first and only Stephen Sondheim musical to feature a same-sex relationship at its heart, and with Ford’s vocally blessed Hollis matching McEldowney’s gorgeously voiced Addison, their duet of “The Best Thing That Ever Happened”—and the thoroughly believable lovers they brought to life—proved emotional stunners.

unnamed Hawkins and Barnett merited loud applause for their solos of the stirring “It’s In Your Hands Now” and the touching “Isn’t He Something.” As for the rest of the cast, whether participants or attentive onstage observers throughout, each and every one earned his or her cheers.

Musical director Julie Lamoureux conducted and played keyboards in the reading’s pitch-perfect onstage orchestra. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes and Brandon Baruch’s lighting added to the evening’s overall professional sheen.

Art Brickman was production stage manager and Katie Brastow and Cara Failer were assistant stage managers. Jill Marie Burke was production coordinator.

With an upcoming return to Glendale’s Alex Theatre likely to please longtime Musical Theatre Guild subscribers, and a season ahead that begins with Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie & Clyde (can I say how stoked I am about that?), MTG enters Season 20 with justifiably high hopes and expectations.

About one thing there can be no doubt. Road Show brought Season 19 to a close on a high note indeed.

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The Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, 3131 Olympic Blvd. Santa Monica.

–Steven Stanley
June 14, 2015
Photos: Alan Weston

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