Road Show at City Center Encores! Off-Center
Review by Mo Brady
For those out there like me who have never seen or heard Road Show, it’s truly a delight to hear what feels like a new Sondheim score. The musical language he created through Company and Sunday In The Park With George are evident in this later score which first debuted in 2003. You can easily imagine how exciting it must have been for musical theatre lovers to hear Sondheim for the first time.
With a book by John Weidman and composed by Sondheim, Road Show tells the tall tale of two entrepreneuring brothers, Addison and Wilson Mizner (played by Raul Esparza and Brandon Uranowitz). The show follows their adventures through the Yukon gold rush to a Florida real estate boom of the 1920s. This Encores! Off-Center is the show’s largest presentation in New York City to date, after being produced at the Public Theatre as well as in major regional mountings.
Unlike Encores! main season of productions, the summer Off-Center series returns to its roots by letting the actors keep their scripts with them. While not an ensemble-driven show, Road Show is one where the ensemble is strongly present. Even as the show is performed with scores in the actors’ hands or on music stands, the small moments of staging are strongly delivered.
For such a small cast, this ensemble of actors breathe life into the plot of Road Show. While there are only ten performers in the ensemble, they create a necessary company for the plot to enact upon. And even though there are less than a dozen of them, they fill the theatre with Jonathan Tunick’s lush vocal arrangements.
The ensemble is filled with strong featured characters that act encounter brothers Wilson and Addison’s journey to the middle. Matt Moisey (Fiddler on the Roof) and Vishal Vaidya (Groundhog Day) play delightful foils for a variety of Addison and Wilson’s schemes throughout the show, and Liz McCartney (My Fair Lady) is practically perfect in her brief cameos as Wilson’s wealthy wife, Mrs. Yerkes.
Marina Kondo is a pitch-perfect spokeswoman for the newly formed town of Boca Raton. The trio of Rheaume Crenshaw (Groundhog Day), Shereen Pimentel (The Lion King) and Sharone Sayegh (The Band’s Visit) each play delightfully disdainful heads of households in the town. Plus, any ensemble to include Broadway’s next Maria in West Side Story (Pimentel) has to be one full of ringers.
There’s a problematic sequence in the show’s first third called “Addison’s Trip” where Esparza takes on the stereotypical accents of Indian, Chinese and Guatemalan people. While director Will Davis pokes for at the cultural appropriate with commentary from Vaidya and Daniel J. Edwards, the montage certainly feels ripe for restructuring in 2019.
The emotional heart of this production is Jin Ha and his performance as Hollis Bessemer. The show grows in its emotional depth with the entrance of his character, and seems to fully bloom in the montage “You.” In addition, his duet “The Best Thing That Ever Happened” with Uranowitz is where the story seems to drop in its emotional depth.
At a quick-moving 100 minutes Road Show keeps a brisk pace, even with its heavy share of emotional closeups on characters. With its delightfully witty score and strong performances across the board, what’s not to love?