Capsule Stage Reviews: MBTV, Road Show

MBTV Under full disclosure, I must declare that there is no more talented musical theater quintet than this collective (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan and Luke Wrobel — veterans of the late, great Masquerade Theatre), and I would be happy as a clam just to sit and listen to them sing whatever they want to. Which is exactly what they do in this revue, without much thought to the theme, which is The Music Box Does Television. To be fair, they state this objective right at the beginning — that the songs are a bunch of their favorites and this seems the right time to perform them — but why do a show about television if the songs have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject? Exquisitely sung, as always, the show is rushed and slapdash, not up to MBT's usual standards. The skits, as they are, are fairly lame and flatline badly but are saved in every way by the guest appearance of John Gremillion (another quality alumnus from Masquerade), who performs in knockout impersonations of Mr. Rogers, creepy and soft; Regis Philbin, peppy and overmedicated; and Johnny Carson, full of tics with perfect timing. Gremillion raises the level of the nonmusical segments with graceful ease. Of course, none of this truly matters when the five of them open their mouths and sing, instantly transporting us to a higher plane. Each gets to shine. Taylor, who does a brilliant but brief appearance as whiney Fran Drescher, turns on a dime and dazzles as a glamorous "Material Girl," squealing in little chirps as she paws the diamonds. Scarborough, with his trumpet-bright tenor, sails through "Hooked on Feelings," with the ensemble backing him up with those patented "ooh-ga-cha-kas." Dahl, pregnant and about to give birth if she wails another high C, channels her inner Grace Slick with a smoking "Somebody to Love." Wrobel, all honeyed baritone swirling like haze, mesmerizes with the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic "One for My Baby." Sullivan, all crystal-clear soprano, plunges deep into the Heart power ballad "Alone" and later gloriously traipses through Sting's elegiac "Fields of Gold," although she's overshadowed by a "best of" tribute to TV personalities playing behind her. The five join forces, unsuccessfully, I must confess, in an a cappella version of the rhapsodic Brian Wilson/Tony Asher "God Only Knows." But the best is saved for last, a rip-roaring Joe Cocker take on "With a Little Help from My Friends," fabulously rendered by Wrobel with all those neurotic Cocker mannerisms in place. No need to grab that remote when any of these five are singing center stage. Through July 3. Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG

Road Show If only this latest musical from Stephen Sondheim were his first, then we could hail a rising new talent instead of having to justify a spinning of his wheels. Coming from the reigning master of the American musical (Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Follies, Company), this show is mighty disappointing. What Stages Repertory Theatre does to it, though, is tremendously impressive. Director Kenn McLaughlin bedazzles with stagecraft and is responsible for whatever singing this show has, not Sondheim or Weidman. The staging throws off heat and pizzazz, while the show keeps circling back on itself in an endless loop. It travels all over the globe, following the exploits and dreams of the ill-fated real-life Mizner brothers, but never goes anywhere. Continuously reworked since its workshop premiere, Road Show (2008) still needs work. Addison Mizner (L. Jay Meyer), renowned '20s architect, designed opulent fairy-tale palaces for the rich on Long Island and in Palm Beach. He was also a con man deluxe, single-handedly responsible for the pre-Depression collapse of banks in Florida due to his corrupt real estate ventures in Boca Raton. Brother Wilson (Tom Frey) was just as shady but perhaps even more colorful. A coked-up swindler, he abetted Addison in swindling the swells of Palm Beach, ran drugs, took drugs and ended up a screenwriter in Hollywood, giving Warner Bros. and MGM an electric jolt of pre-Code jazz, all while he co-owned and managed the famous Brown Derby restaurant. These guys are ripe for Sondheim's patented musical treatment. They get only a shadow of what they richly deserve. The juicy historical facts of the brothers' lives are glossed over, neglected or turned on their heads in this padded, busy musical. Sondheim and Weidman turn the brothers into symbolic Siamese twins, joined at the subconscious. Addison is whiny and schoolmarmish, Wilson slick and smarmy. They love each other, they hate each other, they're inseparable even when apart, using each other as crutch and bludgeon in their far-off quest for happiness just down the road. The musical catches fire when Addison travels to Palm Beach, meets young dreamer Hollis Bessemer (Michael McClure) on the train and falls in love, although Addison's sudden attack of gayness comes out of nowhere. Except for two exceptionally fine ballads, the music is a parody of what Sondheim sounds like. The lyrics, unlike the master's best, are perfunctory when not downright tired: "extends...bends...and ends" is just as trite as the cliché of "June...moon...spoon." As Addison Meyer, seems worn out from the beginning, too old for the young dreamer in California. It's not his fault; his character never gets out of the rut the authors put him in and there's no place for him to go. Frey comes off better because dissolute Wilson is such a natural scene stealer. He, too, may only be cardboard, but he's got color, unlike Addison's wimpy gray. McClure has the freshness of youth and a handsome tenor to see him through. The brothers aren't on the road, they're on a treadmill, still waiting for Sondheim to take them to the promised land. So are we. Through June 30. 3201 Allen Pkwy., 713-527-0123. — DLG

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