SALT LAKE CITY — For Stephen Sondheim‘s diehard fans, the Wastach Theatre Company production of Road Show is a gift. This show—Sondheim’s most recent musical—has never been produced in Utah. That means that those who have a goal of seeing every one of Sondheim’s shows must catch this production. Unfortunately, few besides Sondheim aficionados will have a reason to see this production.
Road Show tells the story of the Mizner brothers, Addison (played by Cameron Kapetanov) and Wilson (Quinn Kapetanov), who set out to make their mark on America and history after their father (Michael Nielsen) dies. The two brothers become part of the Klondike gold rush, but after a falling out, they separate. However, the brothers can never completely stay apart, and their fortunes remain intertwined for decades.
The strongest two aspects of the production are Sondheim’s score and Rick Rea‘s direction. The score is most reminiscent of Into the Woods, although I also heard bits that reminded me of Follies, Merrily We Roll Along and (for a few fleeting notes) Sunday in the Park with George. The opening number, “Waste,” grabbed my attention and intrigued me quickly because of the interesting interactions that the other characters had with Addison. “Addison’s Trip” was a fun infusion of different musical sounds and moods and effectively showed the passage of time. Rick Rea directed these complex group numbers well, and I never found the groups of characters or the interwoven solos, dialogue, and group numbers confusing.
Strong as the directing and score were, they were were mostly unsupported by the other lackluster aspects of the production. Most unavoidable is the script by John Weidman, which failed to justify why the Mizner brothers’ relationship is worth exploring. Beyond a vague recognition that they will always be brothers, there didn’t seem to be anything special about the way the two interacted. Plus, I always had the nagging feeling that I had seen almost everything that Road Show has to offer before in other Sondheim musicals—and usually done better in those. Company, for example, was better at presenting episodes that illustrate how a man can create barriers that prevent him from forming meaningful relationships. Merrily We Roll Along was a more effective exploration of how a person’s decisions impacts his later life and how he deals with success. And Gypsy was a better story of how poisonous family dynamics can make family members become psychologically entangled with one another. In short, Road Show suffers from being a retreated of themes that Sondheim’s fans are already familiar with.
In addition to the weak script, the production values on display did not justify the ticket cost. Linda Eyring‘s costume designs made only feeble efforts to establish the time period of the play’s action. Moreover, Eyring’s costumes were mostly at the level I would expect from a high school production, and many actors seemed to be costumed by items from their closets. Danny Dunn’s lighting did little more than light the stage and didn’t contribute to the mood or location of the various scenes (a particularly important shortcoming when there was almost no set).
The acting, too, mostly was lackluster. The family interactions among the Mizner brothers and their parents—especially the mother (played by Karrie Ann Ogilvie)—were shallow and artificial, especially in the scenes where each parent dies. For a play based on family interactions, this lack of attention made it hard for me to stay invested in the characters’ fates. But other aspects of the lead actors’ performances were also unsatisfying. Cameron Kapetanov’s voice was strong enough for the role, but his acting felt shallow, such as in “Addison’s Trip,” which lacked any frustration that the character would have felt after repeated setbacks. Likewise, Quinn Kapetanov’s character was supposed to be an unscrupulous rascal with a drug problem, but the actor had trouble linking these essential aspects of his character to Wilson’s actions.
The acting problems also extended to other cast members. Derek Gregerson (who played Addison’s male love interest, Hollis Bessemer) was flat and unenergetic throughout the entire show, which made me dread his scenes more and more as the evening progressed. This may because of an illness Gregerson was experiencing, which also made his speaking and singing voice so hoarse that I found myself wondering if it would have been better to cancel the performance. Additionally, the ensemble displayed very few variations across the many characters they played—a disappointment that I just couldn’t forgive. The ensemble’s sloppy execution of Rea’s simple choreography was also a major letdown.
In short, Wasatch Theatre Company’s ambitions have again outstripped their capabilities. Road Show is little more than another notch in the belt for Sondheim groupies like myself. Other people will be alienated by the shoddy acting, the amateurish costumes, the strong language and the Addison-Hollis relationship. Quite frankly, it is far from “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened” to me in a theater. I wanted to like the show, but in the end, I was just happy to just “Get Out.”