This artistic enfant terrible was formerly known as Wise Guys, Gold and Bounce.
But no amount of aliases and donning of a false moustaches and dark glasses can prevent it from being recognised everywhere it goes by its giant coxcomb atop its head and the involuntary gobbling sounds, both of which announce “turkey” wherever it raises its head.
Which is now at the Menier Chocolate Factory where it gets its first airing on these shores under a musical witness protection scheme posing as Andrew’s favourite antiques TV programme Road Show. Cue much moistness from The Stephen Sondheim Society and other liberal arts do-gooders with a touching faith in their hearts that deep down it isn’t really bad, just misunderstood.
The tale (book John Weidman) tells the story of the early 20th century fortune-seeking Mizner brothers, taking us from the Alaskan gold rush to Florida and all points not in between. It has been reworked, rewritten and apparently much improved since it’s initial outing in 1999. One shudders to think what that version must have been like.
We can be thankful for some things though. John Doyle who directed its first Road Show incarnation in America in 2008 has eschewed his signature actors-with-musical-instruments format, cut it to 95 minutes (actually 105 at this preview) without interval and opted to stage it in the traverse.
Ah, the traverse. How does that appear in our list of positives? From front row seats Phil found this tougher than being at Wimbledon. His neck was getting a better workout than Linda Blair’s. Andrew, however, saw it as an opportunity to survey the largely expressionless audience, many fanning themselves in the sweltering heat, on the opposite side of the auditorium during the duller stretches.
This is a major production of a very minor Sondheim. Doyle does his best to inject pep into the proceedings, the hardworking cast, sweating profusely, includes Olivier Award winners Michael Jibson and David Badella, as the brothers Addison and Wilson respectively. Furniture, including chairs, a bed and an antique globe drinks trolley are trundled up and down the landing strip stage relentlessly. Are the cast multi-tasking by simultaneously performing an audition for Pickfords?
Like a Voyages Jules Verne world tour we enjoy brief stays in Hawaii, India and China and marvel at the wonders of cultural stereotyping. Book the Duke of Edinburgh for a gala performance now! Dollar bills are strew around with abandon, often landing on the audience. Did a cast member think Phil was in danger of nodding off when he was hit in the face by a wad of notes? The theatre’s Gestetner can’t have been the only thing overheating in the Menier.
Jon Robyns makes an impression as Hollis Bessemer but the best moment for Phil was Gillian Bevan as Mama Mizner affectingly delivering “Isn’t He Something!” immediately before snuffing it. The best tune is probably “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” but along with the episodic storyline which fails to offer any real dramatic tension the show’s main problem is its harsh, sardonic tone whose revulsion at American greed leaves no room for any charm at all until the very last deathbed scene by which time everyone has snuffed it.
Andrew (who had steadfastly refused to “research” the piece beforehand) perked up somewhat when it turned out that these brothers were the architects of the Palm Beach millionaire’s haven Boca Raton which for some reason had lodged itself in his brain as the location of one of Lord Sugar’s homes. Sure enough, here it is. Ernie Wise had a holiday home there too. So does Greg Norman. Oooh, and while we’re on this website, look, here’s Madonna’s London house. Oooh! We can see Sarah Palin’s house from our houses! Hours of fun. Hours of fun.