When Josh Lamon and Noah Racey were at what would be director Gary Griffin’s final callback for Signature’s upcoming performance of Road Show, both actors felt an immediate bond with one another.
“In the audition, there was a sense of fun. It was one of the more mellow and comfortable experiences I have had in auditioning,” Racey says. “Gary had us sit down and talk to us and it felt like the three of us starting to rehearse. That’s the best way to audition for me. Yelping 16 bars is this frightening version of what we do, so this was really nice. It just clicked. It felt playful and dangerous, because the script isn’t light by any means.”
Lamon goes so far as to call their connection “instant” and “magical.”
“We’ve never worked together before but I know Noah’s work, because I am a theater nerd and I tend to know who everyone is,” Lamon says. “When I saw him outside the callback room, I got so excited.”
Based on the infamous real-life Mizner siblings, Road Show, the third collaboration between the legendary Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, is a travelogue of the optimism and opportunism of the early 20th century, seen through the eyes of a dreamer and a schemer – Addison and Wilson respectively. Lamon takes on Addison, while Racey plays Wilson.
“I have an insane jealousy of my character because he is endlessly brave,” Lamon says. “The poor fellow has this history of awful luck but it never occurs to him that he has bad luck and he just keeps going. That is a quality I wish I had.”
For Racey, he finds Wilson both interesting and a bit intimidating. “It’s a little uncomfortable to approach every single scene with a sense of manipulation,” he says. “I do envy the optimism in him and I find that revitalizing. His sense that there is something right around the corner—the feeling that he can turn lemons into lemonade.”
Once cast, the two started communicating through Facebook messages and started to get to know each other a little better. After all, Lamon shared, since they were going to be playing brothers, it was important to make that seem real on stage.
“We are very different people, but we complement each other very well and read each other both on and off stage,” he says. “It’s been a perfect coupling in that sense. What’s great about me and Noah is we show up, are prepared and are ready to play.”
Racey adds that the two try to discover a really deep sense of truth in each other’s lines.
“We may fumble around and bump up against what doesn’t work, and that search is all about being able to make mistakes and have room,” he says. “Some things jump out and are clear, others you want to search for. You need room to laugh at yourself and turn to the person and have them be right there for you.”
The show has sort of a dubious history. Originally workshopped in 1999 under the title of Bounce, it played in Chicago and D.C., in 2003, Off-Broadway in 2008 and the West End in 2011—seeing the title change to Wise Guys, Gold! and finally Road Show. But it’s a rare Sondheim production that hasn’t made it to Broadway.
Griffin first took a stab at the show in 2014, in the much-acclaimed Chicago Shakespeare Theater production.
“I really appreciated that he had prior knowledge of the show and the fact he has given us room to play in a really sound structure,” Racey says. “He knows the animal of the play but has approached it openly for this space. The set has grown a bit. He has done a good job of letting us find this for ourselves.”
“Gary is an artist and a remarkable man,” Lamon adds. “As soon as the three of us feel like we found it, he opens it up again for examination to see what’s there. It’s remarkable to work with an artist who never settles and says the job is done.”
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Both actors playfully say Griffin is somewhat of a “Shakespearean Nazi” with the script—underscoring a comma here or a inflexion there—but when you’re working with something written by Sondheim and Weidman, you have to understand the attention to detail.
A self-confessed huge Sondheim fan—so much so that when he was a child, the kids’ table at his Bar Mitzvah was decked out with Sweeney Todd—Lamon has known about this musical since virtually its inception.
“I’ve been following this show since it was Bounce and I fell in love with it when I saw it at the Public Theater,” Lamon says. “When Signature announced that they were doing it, I got butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to be seen. I have a huge passion for the show and always wanted to work for Signature and luckily, the stars kissed the moon and I got to be here.”
For Racey, the show was more on the periphery of his world. He had heard all the titles through the years and had some friends in different versions, but he had never seen it or read the script.
“I knew it was this piece that didn’t come to Broadway, but it was all new to me, other than knowing it existed,” he says. “What attracted me was the fact it is Sondheim and Weidman and as I found throughout rehearsal, it’s amazingly strong writing. Not that it was surprising, but it has been such an awesome discovery of how hard you can kick the tires and how strong it maintains what it ends up asking of us.”
Paraphrasing a line from the musical, Lamon talks about how the road of life is long and messy and bends and crumbles and gets strong again but one thing that the road doesn’t do is stop.
“It’s up to you to see where it goes. That rings true, especially today in all that we have going on,” he says. “If you love Sondheim, you’re going to love this piece. It’s bold and examines two extraordinary flawed men, but even though they did arguably terrible things, they weren’t bad people, and I feel this show shows that.”
When audiences leave the theater, Racey feels they will leave with a sense of hope.
“It’s really weird that you have these two characters who lead you to hope and possibility but that’s what it does to me,” he says. “The overall feeling is that it’s in our hands so do in this life what we want and that feels very hopeful.”