Director Gary Griffin steers Sondheim’s ‘Road Show’ onto Navy Pier.
“Road Show” is an apt name for the Stephen Sondheim musical, which opens March 13 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Based on the crazy careers of Wilson and Addison Mizner — 1930s-era siblings always on the make — the piece has traveled a long way since it debuted at the Goodman Theatre in 2003 as “Bounce,” under the direction of Broadway legend Hal Prince. Tweaked and fine-tuned a number of times since then, the show gets another crack at Chicago audiences, this time at the hand of director Gary Griffin.
Sondheim and his “Pacific Overtures” collaborator, writer John Weidman, first presented their concept at New York Theatre Workshop in 1999. Christened “Wise Guys,” it featured Nathan Lane and Victor Garber as the brothers Mizner. Though the duo had a problematic relationship, and their entrepreneurial gumption overwhelmed them, the show’s creators positioned the tale as a lighthearted romp, targeting ticket-buyers’ willingness to delight in the get-ahead, risk-taking determination that led the brothers from prospecting for gold in Alaska to developing palatial homes for A-listers in Florida.
“ ‘Road Show’ is the third in a trilogy of stories Sondheim created with John Weidman that explore the American character,” Griffin says. “They explored American Imperialism in ‘Pacific Overtures,’ and Americans on the outside looking in through ‘Assassins.’ It’s been fascinating to follow the evolution of ‘Road Show.’ I believe the authors distilled what they have learned from the various workshops and productions and arrived at an essential story of two brothers and their pursuit of the American dream.”
Griffin is no stranger to Sondheim’s work. His 2001 rendition of “Pacific Overtures” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater earned Jeff Awards for best production and best director, and garnered three Laurence Olivier Awards when it played in London. Since then, he has mounted four other Sondheim shows at Chicago Shakespeare Theater: “Sunday in the Park With George” (twice), “A Little Night Music,” “Passion,” “Follies” and — just weeks ago — “Gypsy,” the landmark Sondheim musical which he penned lyrics for in 1959.
Though clearly at home negotiating the musical breadth and textual nuances of Sondheim’s creations, Griffin admits he is always surprised by the “depth of craft and perception” that characterizes the composer’s work, and he’s up for the task of relaying that to the audience. “The greatest challenge, as always with Sondheim’s work, is to stay as open and present as is humanly possible, and to create the clearest and most powerful channel for the audience.”