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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Sondheim's 'Road Show' at The Menier Chocolate Factory

I have never visited the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre before, but their current European premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Road Show’ was reason enough for me to swallow my pride and buy a pair of extortionately priced tickets... how this tiny independent theatre can justify selling seats, STARTING from £29.50, I do not know; but credit to them, they still frequently manage to sell out. Well, I marched in feeling rather bitter; very few theatre trips are worth £60.

Road Show has been reworked several times by Sondheim and writer John Weidman, and settles now at a ninety-five minute long piece that packs in a hell of a lot of narrative. Based on the real life story of the Mizner brothers, Road Show spans forty years and represents two very different aspects of America. Addison is a hard-working, honest gay man; Wilson is a selfish, cheating womaniser - both are desperate to make money but take very different roads to do so. Despite their contrasting opinions and personalities, the two brothers find themselves regularly reunited. The famous ‘Carpe Diem’ quote seems to linger – the boys are warned by their father, before he dies, that they must seize the day, find their way, and make a decent living to support their mother.

The two brothers, Michael Jibson as Addison and David Bedella as Wilson, both show impressive commitment to their roles and give developed, nuanced portrayals - I found the pair of them thoroughly engaging. It was only afterwards that I realised I had seen David Bedella playing the extravagant role of Frank’N’Furter in the Rocky Horror show a year before, and was amazed by the transformation seen here. Phil Wrigley is sweet as the doe-eyed posh boy Horris Bessemer, befriended by Addison as his patron. Though I thought Gillian Bevan was a little weak as Mama Mizner: she has a quiet singing voice that couldn’t carry even in this small theatre and was disappointingly lacklustre throughout.

The music is characteristically Sondheim-esque, which you either love or hate. I enjoyed the rhythmic riffs and jazz progressions, but did find the music a tad repetitive. Towards the end however, there are a few tender moments between Addy and his lover as they sing ‘The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened,’ a gorgeously melodic song. I was delighted to be sitting right next to the enthusiastic band who gave a hearty and secure rendition of this tricky Sondheim score.

Director John Doyle makes the production surprisingly evocative with clever use of the transverse stage and quirky props, including handfuls of hundred dollar notes that are scattered over the stage and audience during the show.

Road Show continues until 17 September, book here.

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