L. Jay Meyer as Addison Mizner and Tom Frey as Wilson Wizner

Road Show
Stages Repertory Theatre
Thru June 30
Wed & Thu at at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 3
$23–35
3210 Allen Parkway
713-527-0123
stagestheatre.com 

Stephen Sondheim has spent the past 15 years trying to create a musical about brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, real-life con men who swindled their away across early-twentieth-century America. Actually, the idea for the musical goes back even further, to 1952, when Sondheim first conceived the idea of the musical. Previously called Gold!, Wise Guys, and Bounce, the musical now known as Road Show is making its regional debut at Stages Repertory Theatre.

Kenn McLaughlin, who directs the production, has been following the musical’s long, tortured history from its beginnings in 1998. As the education director for the American tour of Cabaret, McLaughlin became entranced by the musical’s director, English wunderkind Sam Mendes. “That was just before Mendes directed American Beauty [1999], which came out and proved him to be one of the most brilliant directors,” McLaughlin remembers. Word that Mendes was collaborating with Sondheim on what was then called Wise Guys set Broadway hearts aflutter. “The thought of Mendes and Sondheim getting together was amazing—it was all the buzz,” McLaughlin says. “I remember being sad when that combination of artists didn’t work out.” Creative differences drove Sondheim and Mendes apart, putting an end to their much-anticipated collaboration.

Flash forward a decade to 2008. After two subsequent versions of Sondheim’s Mizner musical failed to achieve critical velocity, Road Show, the musical’s fourth and final incarnation, premiered in New York to mostly positive reviews. At the time, however, McLaughlin was preoccupied by Hurricane Ike, which flooded Stages’ theater and offices, forcing the company to cancel over a week of sold-out performances. Two years ago, when McLaughlin voiced the desire to direct a lesser-known Sondheim musical, someone suggested Road Show, and McLaughlin readily agreed to mount the first American production of the play outside of New York (the play had a brief London run in 2011).

McLaughlin concurs with most theater critics that Road Show succeeds where its three predecessors fell short. “I think that what Sondheim and John Weidman [who wrote the book] were trying to uncover for themselves was the relationship of the Mizner brothers,” McLaughlin says. “Sondheim once said that ‘we set out to write a love story about the two brothers.’ And of the four versions, this is the one that gets that relationship right.” 

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