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Road Show (Union Theatre)

February 17, 2016

(seen at the afternoon performance on 14th February 2016).

Almost as much has been written about this rarely seen and much evolved Sondheim show as has actually been written in it. This story of the Meisner brothers, one a womanising shyster, the other a gay architect, and how they founded Boca Raton and did / didn’t make names for themselves in fields as diverse as boxing promotion and pineapple farming; has gone from vaudeville themed to current “flashback” tale and changed names at least once (from “Bounce”).

As usual at the Union Theatre, the casting director (Adam Braham in this case) assembles a cast of experienced performers, ready and able to support the very cream of newcomers.

Lead roles of Wilson “Willy” Meisner and brother Addison go to Andre Refig and Howard Jenkins respectively. Totally credible as brothers, both are also leads-in-waiting. Refig’s character acting and Jenkins ‘romantic lead’ types only deepen their abilities to convince us that they are self-made hunters of the American Dream.

Real discovery, though, is Addison’s lover Hollis, played by Joshua LeClair. This young man will play “Jack” in “Into The Woods,” and Tobias Ragg in “Sweeney Todd” in the near future, if any sensible casting director has anything to do with it, and in 25 years will move up to play the title role in “Sweeney Todd” if all goes to plan. Not only can he sing Sondheim, he can find the character in every note.

For the young ladies in the cast, Amy Perry makes an amusing young widow and, with Amy Reitsma, the pair convince as saloon girls. Indeed, it’s a tribute to their abilities that no costume change was required to give audiences the full effect. Other young lady Laura Jade Clark has yet to finish studying, but moves well enough to avoid the fate of gold-miner for sure.

Moving to the senior cast, Cathryn Sherman (Mama Meisner) manages to hit every note of a difficult score, even while seated (hard for a singer) and doesn’t deserve at least one of the sons she got. Steve Watts, as Papa Meisner and narrator ‘Old Addison’ is on-stage for almost the entire time, seated too. Given a Sondheim look, his delivery is dry and satisfying.

Christina Thornton makes a lot of a variety of roles – and would fit in well in Hawaii. Phil Sealey probably is a professional gambler, going by his performance, and accomplices Sam Sugarman, Alexander McMorran and Damian Robinson perhaps shouldn’t be approached either – except by those looking for versatile ensemble players, of course.

You will note I’ve talked a lot about the cast, rather than the show. Quite simply, it’s because they did a lot with very little. This is slight, with echoes in the music of “Assassins” and not really enough drama for the story to keep moving at a good pace for the whole evening.

Director Phil Willmott does his very best, finding some decent drama even in the long narrative, and using choreographer Thomas Michael Voss’s skills to paper over cracks as they appear. With inventive sound design from James Nicholson and a neat three piece orchestra under Richard Baker, they deliver the most they can.

A rare chance to see a small piece in a glittering career, but also a real chance to glimpse a few of the future stars of musical theatre.

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