DISCLAIMER: This review is of a preview performance, some elements may change by press night. Road Show is a 2008 musical by the Assassins team of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, although versions of it have appeared since 1999; its current (final?) form appeared in a production by John Doyle, who returns to it now to direct its UK premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Based on a true story, it follows Addison Mizner (Michael Jibson,) the architect who designed much of Palm Springs and Boca Raton in Florida, and his relationship with his smooth-talking con-man of a brother Wilson (David Bedella.) Beginning and ending on Addison's deathbed, the 95-minute show covers their lives that go from rags-to-riches-to-rags several times over, lots of money passing through their hands but never seeming to stay forever - fake $100 bills are scattered around the stage constantly.
Like Assassins this is about the American Dream although despite the odd darker moment this is a much less cynical look at it. With Sondheim's tendency to plagiarise himself there's also a motif that's very similar to one in the earlier show, although for the most part it's just a similar musical style rather than actually familiar-sounding songs. Another thing the shows share is that this is Sondheim at his more accessible, with more clearly defined songs with a beginning and end. Doyle has put the action on a traverse stage which the ever-present ensemble bring props and furniture onto as necessary and the whole thing has a frantic, intimate energy. A homoerotic subtext suddenly loses the "sub" when Jon Robyns (the original West End Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q) arrives as Hollis, and his and Addison's love song "The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened" is a rather moving highlight. There's actually a lot of dark stuff going on here as well - relationships end nastily, those $100 bills get used to hoover up cocaine, and the ghosts of the Mizners' parents (Gillian Bevan from Teachers and Glyn Kerslake) are disappointed in how they've turned out - but the production never dwells on this and I ended up with a smile on my face most of the time, enjoying it a lot more than I expected to. Though the whole ensemble is strong, Jobson's adorably vulnerable Addison holds the whole thing together and helps make this, for me, a real return to form for a theatre that's been underachieving lately.
Road Show by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman is booking until the 17th of September at the Menier Chocolate Factory.