Sondheim’s reworked ‘Road Show’ still a bumpy ride

Tony Castellanos, Neil A. Casey, Patrick Varner and company in “Road Show.” Photo: Maggie Hall

BOSTON – After many revisions, there are times when “Road Show” still appears to be an unfinished work.

The musical now being performed by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston has been down a long and torturous road – try four scripts, three titles, and three directors over almost two decades – but even in its latest, trimmed-down incarnation, it still feels as if there should be orange construction cones around the stage.

There are sporadic spurts of genius from master composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, but too often he’s just channeling his other works.

The book is by John Weidman, who is no stranger in exploring eclectic subjects with Sondheim, having written the books for “Pacific Overtures” – about the West’s opening towards the East – and “Assassins,” a look at characters who gained notoriety in a ghoulish way.

“Road Show” is a look at the Mizner brothers, entrepreneurs and con men in the early 20th Century. It’s not a spoiler to tell you the show begins where it ends, with the architect Addison Mizner on his deathbed and the rest of the company lambasting him in the number “Waste” because of the squandering of his formidable talent and the Florida land scandal that took him down.

Brother Wilson turns up to deflect the barrage, but finds himself in his brother’s crosshairs as the cause of his ruin.

Neil A. Casey is Addison Mizner, the more grounded of the two Mizner brothers, an actor I’ve found almost impossible to dislike in a multitude of diverse roles.

His brother Wilson (Tony Castellanos) has ideas – almost too many to count – but is also apt to take the shortcut to get there and bend the rules whenever it’s to his advantage

Before he died at the turn of the 20th Century, their father (Sean McGuirk), a diplomat and lawyer, pointed a path both straight and true to this sons in the song “It’s In Your Hands Now.”

Off the brothers go to make their fame and fortune, sometimes together, often apart.

Neil A. Casey and Patrick Varner in “Road Show.” Photo: Maggie Hall

After spending considerable time detailing the boys’ exploits mining for gold in The Yukon (“Gold!”) and making their first fortune on the turn of a card, the two split up, Addison citing Wilson’s decision-making (“The Game”).

Addison then whirls through several destinations and adventures in places as far away as Indian in mere minutes, suggesting that’s where many of the cuts from earlier versions were made.

Vanessa J. Schukis is a warm and loving Mama Mizner and Addison is devoted to her, while Wilson is devoted to himself, and what he can get away with, even if Mama can’t see it (“Isn’t He Something?”).

Lyric Stage Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, who co-directs with frequent collaborator Ilyse Robbins, is a longtime champion of Sondheim’s work, which he has staged skillfully through the years.

In program notes, he admits “Road Show” doesn’t have the emotional heft of “Sunday in the Park With George” or the musical chops of a “Sweeney Todd,” but it is in keeping with the other Weidman-Sondheim shows in that it details the American dream gone bad.

Gone bad as in the 1920s land boom in Florida, where Addison finds on the train to Florida a business partner and lover named Hollis Bessemer, skillfully portrayed by Patrick Varner, one of the rising young area talents who already has several Sondheim roles on his resume

The two cut a wide swath among the moneyed crowd in a burgeoning village called Palm Beach, building Addison-designed mansions, each unique to its owner.

But a down-on-his-luck Wilson re-emerges and wants to take everything to a new level, and Hollis’ dream of an artists’ enclave and Addison’s desire to leave his stamp on “Addison City” – aka Boca Raton – ultimately fall victim to Wilson’s excesses.

Jonathan Goldberg has often married Veloudos’ direction with his skillful performance of Sondheim’s music, in this case also both orchestrating and performing as part of a three-person ensemble.

“Road Show” isn’t Sondheim’s best, but if you are a dedicated Sondheim disciple or just a fan of musicals in general, there are enough good moments from the master to keep you both intrigued and entertained for the 90 minutes.

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “Road Show.” Book by John Weidman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Co-Directed by Spiro Veloudos and Ilyse Robbins. Choreography by Ilyse Robbins. Music direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Scenic design by Cristina Todesco. Lighting design by John. R. Malinnowski. Sound design by Elizabeth Cahill. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Feb. 11. lyricstage.com

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