Come Down to Boca Raton . . . And Get Rich Quick!
REVIEW: Road Show, Musical Theatre Guild
By RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Musicals in 25 hours! Musical Theatre Guild’s closed their 19th season with a rousing production of Stephen Sondheim’s heavily revised musical Road Show at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica. The musical, based on the story of the brothers Wilson and Addison Mizer’s search for the American dream is told in true Sondheim fashion, complete with bouncy ostinatos figures, angular melodies and clever patter songs that make Gilbert and Sullivan look like simpletons. The Americana sounding score contains hints of other better known Sondheim classics such as Company, Assassins and even Into the Woods, after all the latter two were still fresh in his mind upon the creation of this show, initially named Bounce in 2003. Nevertheless, true to Musical Theatre Guild (MTG) fashion Road Show is presented warts and all, director Richard Israel didn’t try to fix the musical with cuts or modifications, the show is produced true to its latest 2008 revision under the new title.
The Moss Theater’s thrust stage makes a perfect canvas for MTG’s minimalist production that brings intimacy and focus to the drama itself. The cast wears many hats—literally and figuratively—as the ensemble members often play various other minor characters throughout. The sets are simple—three trunks filled with various accessories, a trunk on wheels and projections on the back wall usually with various colors displayed rather than images. Simplicity to the core and it all works perfectly. Given the show is a pure concert staged reading the only props allowed are the scripts in hand, none of which are distracting, as the actors’ full embodiment of the characters make the scripts virtually invisible.
Addison’s (Craig McEldowney) artistic aspirations and his brother Wilson’s (Will Collyer) yen for destruction are in constant toil and both actors are ready for battle. From his first entrance Collyer’s takes command of the stage with his energy and gait that exudes Wilson’s confident brash character. His first number, “The Game” is performed with acute agility and expression. Collyer tackles Sondheim’s wordy song that shows Wilson’s penchant for risk taking that will ultimately lead him to be found dead, “face down in a double bourbon in a booth at the Brown Derby”. Offering a contrast to Wilson, McEldowney is a solid match. He convincingly plays the dreamer, the builder, the good son, and the weaker of the two. McEldowney’s most salient quality as an actor is his ability to create relationships with his fellow actors, to build personal connections on stage and take the audience along for the ride. His love for Hollis (Zachary Ford) is sweetly represented in the song “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened” as the two realize the love they have found in each other. Equally poignant are songs “Get Out” and “Go”. Here McEldowney shows his equal skill for fast aggressive music and Collyer’s powerful voice gets to soar in ballad form.
The fact that this show was put together in a weekend of rehearsals is astounding as there isn’t a weak link anywhere to be found. The ensemble is collectively as skillful as the principals. All the voices blended nicely and the diction in the fast patter songs is crystal clear— glitters like “Gold!”
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Julie Lamoureux led the seven-piece orchestra from a grand piano center stage. The ensemble is a tight knit unit that played Jonathan Tunick’s clever orchestrations like a well-oiled machine. Lamoureaux conducting style is a combination of head nodding as she played the piano, and high nimble conducting patterns when she could spare a hand. Her orchestra is superb and her attention to detail with the cast is also evident.
For their 20th season MTG returns to the Alex Theater in Glendale. The upcoming season includes Bonnie and Clyde, Do I Hear A Waltz, A Class Act and The Pajama Game. Neglected, forgotten, or nearly dismissed whatever the case may be, for musicals that fall into any of these categories MGT is there to bring them back to life, if only for one night.