Road Show, Sondheim's first new musical since his Tony-honored Passion in 1994, reunited the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning composer with book writer Weidman ( Assassins, Pacific Overtures) and Tony Award-winning director John Doyle ( Sweeney Todd, Company). The production played an extended run at the Public Theater in 2008, but beyond a 2011 London remounting at the Menier Chocolate Factory, the musical has remained unseen by audiences until now.
Stages Repertory Theatre artistic director Kenn McLaughlin helms the production about the ambitious and morally ambiguous Mizner brothers, whose American spirit – and quest for fame and fortune – took them from Alaska to Boca Raton, and even New York City. The equity theatre is the first in the country to produce the musical that is licensed by Music Theatre International, which handles the entirety of the Sondheim canon, including Sweeney Todd, Company, Follies and Into the Woods.
Road Show, which underwent several workshops and developmental stagings, not to mention several titles — Gold!, Bounce and Wise Guys — arrived in New York just months before the Bernie Madoff scandal rocked investors in a Mizner-esque fashion in the spring of 2009.
McLaughlin draws ties to Houston's own Enron scandal (also famously dramatized on stage) when looking at Road Show and its appeal to Texas audiences. "Those executives were on the boards of our theatres. Those employees are our audiences," he said. "A scam-and-crash, the logic behind it, this is the story of our neighbors. Houston is one of the towns least affected by the crash of 2008, and there is a lot of pride about that too. One of the actors after the first read-through [of Road Show] said, 'This is so Houston,' and I totally agree. This town itself is the quintessence of the American Dream."
Echoing the Mizner's sales pitch of the once swampy Boca Raton, McLaughlin added, "When Houston was founded it was really a swamp, and there were sales photos sent up north that showed mountains in the background. It's almost scary, but this is our story soup to nuts!" Here's how Stages Rep bills its production: Road Show is "based on the true story of brothers Addison and Wilson Mizner, whose unchecked pioneer spirit fueled their epic adventure across America in the early 20th century. Whether bamboozling miners during the Alaska Gold Rush or fleecing the rich in Boca Raton, the Mizner brothers were their era's proof positive that the road to the American Dream can be a seductive, treacherous tightrope walk."
Road Show, which officially opens May 25 for a run through June 30, stars Tom Frey as Wilson and L. Jay Meyer as Addison Mizner, respectively. The two-hour, intermissionless work that spans 40 years of American history, from the Gold Rush to the Florida real-estate boom in the 1930's, is preserved on a Nonesuch Records/PS Classics cast album.
The Houston premiere cast is completed by Cameron Bautsch, Bridget Bierne, Hunter Frederick, Michael McClure, Sarah Myers, Amanda Passanante, Amanda Parker, Jimmy Phillips, Tom Prior, Susan Shofner and Brandon Whitely.
The production has musical direction by Steven Jones, scenic design by Laura Fine Hawkes, lighting design by Jeremy K. Benjamin, sound design by Andrew Harper, costume design by Kris Hanssen and properties design by Jodi Bobrovsky.
For tickets, visit stagestheatre.com.