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Stephen Sondheim's Road Show: When the American Dream Becomes Greed

Kenn McLaughlin, producing artistic director for Stages Repertory Theatre, knows that especially in Houston, where lyricist Stephen Sondheim's work doesn't get done that often, a lot of attention will be paid to their upcoming production of Road Show.

Road Show tells the story of two brothers, Wilson (Tom Frey) and Addison (L. Jay Myer) sons of a critical father, both of whom set out for what seems to be a perpetual chase to cash in on the success they believe America has to offer them in the early 20th Century from the Alaska Gold Rush to Florida land deals.

The musical (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim book by John Weidman) will be a regional premiere for Stages. Kenn McLaughlin, the theater's producing artistic director, says he has long been a Sondheim fan and went after the rights for this show as soon as he read it. "I think it's a really tightly constructed, intelligent, thrilling piece of theater."

Seventy one people auditioned for parts, he says, which greatly exceeded the usual attendance at open auditions. "It takes amazing levels of talent throughout the entire system to do Sondheim correctly," he notes. "You need really smart designers and really great actors who can sing. You need triple threats."

Road Show has seen many iterations; it first ran at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1999 and was titled Wise Guys. Later it traveled to Chicago where after being rewritten it was called Bounce. The version Houston audiences will see (after 14 years of development) is 84-straight-through minutes, McLaughlin says. "It is like lightning. There will be scenes almost like opera."

Ideas of America's obsession with greed are outcomes of the core story of these brothers, he says, without losing the musical comedy aspect.

"I'm deeply moved by the play at the end," McLaughlin says. "It opens up a host of questions for me about my relationships in gneral my family and how it translates to my behavior in the world. And how we as a nation continue to be seduced by these financial promises."

He doesn't think there are any villains in the play. "There's people whose connection to the power of the American Dream smashes their moral compass."

"The road motif is a big one. We are compelled to keep moving forward as a nation. That's such a compelling part of our ethos that we don't stop to recognize the consequence of what that motion is."

Road Show opens May 24 and runs through June 30 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. (7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. )For information call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $21-$40.

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