Reinvention is a recurring theme in the intriguing but not altogether rewarding Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman musical Road Show. Sliced from real life and the creative team’s imaginations, the story chases the California-born Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson, to frigid 1890s Alaska, where they heeded the gold rush and cheated at poker, and to breezy 1930s Florida, where houses were built and homeowners were bilked, and various points in between.
Now in a brief City Center Encores! Off-Center run, which arrives 11 years after its premiere at the Public Theater, the show features a touch of reinvention by director and choreographer Will Davis, who frames the tale of ambitious Addie (Brandon Uranowitz, a charmer) and the wily Willie (Raul Esparza, aptly oily) as a vintage radio play. Actors in period garb, including Chuck Cooper and Mary Beth Peil as the dreaming-scheming brothers’ parents, 13 musicians, old-timey microphones, lush red drapes and an On Air sign is all that’s needed. It’s a smart and economical concept.
Even so, Road Show, whose development reaches back 20 years, is something of a curio. Songs are unmistakably by the same mind behind Sweeney Todd, Company and Passion. But like Weidman’s book, Sondheim’s lyrics don’t often break the surface, though there a couple of nuggets of gold. “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened,” a duet between Addison and Hollis Bessemer (Jin Ha, an ace), the man he falls in love with, is the catchy song. “Go,” sung by the Mizner brothers, is the number that summons churning emotions you expect, or at least hope, to find on any “Road” traveled by Sondheim.