The two notorious Mizner brothers lived lives that legends are made of. As young men at the turn of the century, they schemed and conned their way through the world. Wilson, a great admirer of women and gambling, eventually landed as a Broadway playwright. His brother Addison joined Wilson in many unsavory plots but made a name for himself as an architect during the 1920s Florida land boom.
One would think that the adventures of the Mizner boys would inspire a great musical. In fact, it has been reported that Stephen Sondheim considered the idea as early as 1953. Even Irving Berlin toyed with the concept of a Mizner musical at one time. Yet it is Sondheim, along with John Weidman, who created the piece that is currently playing at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. The musical follows their journeys and shows the brothers’ ability to “bounce” no matter what life hands them.
The score is thoroughly Sondheim. Those familiar with his music will recognize a number of melodies. There are hints of Passion, Sunday In The Park With George and even Into The Woods throughout. Although it may not equal some of his past works, the score is solid and enjoyable. The title song is especially strong. Another wonderful number called “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened” does a good job of adding a touch of romance while helping to define the personalities of the characters. So, where does the problem exist? It is mostly in John Weidman’s book.
The book as a whole is slightly uneven with a few loose ends. There are moments that hold up the plot’s progression and some that are not completely fleshed out. Also, key characters are not fully developed. One role that is sadly underwritten is that of Nellie, the dance hall girl turned wealthy widow. Nellie is a smart and ballsy woman. She is fun to watch, but one never gets a sense of what lies underneath her sassy exterior. However, the most blatant example of underdevelopment is exhibited in the role of Wilson. Quite simply, the character is one-dimensional and as the show progresses there is never any sign of growth. Luckily, the same cannot be said for the role of Addison. Weidman has created a sympathetic character in the form of the more practical brother. Weidman shows us a naïve young man who finds his niche and matures into an assertive adult.
The character of Addison is so strong that it almost becomes his story alone. Wilson becomes secondary, though both brothers are portrayed quite well. As the mild mannered Addison, Richard Kind is a scene stealer. He is given some wonderful moments and he plays them extremely well. Kind captures his audience in the palm of his hand from the very beginning and doesn’t let go till the curtain call.
Considering the character’s shortcomings, Broadway alum Howard McGillin (Phantom of the Opera) gives an admirable performance as Wilson Mizner. He has a lovely voice and handles the musical numbers with ease. McGillin is also quite adept at portraying the seamier side of Wilson. As his love interest Nellie, Tony winner Michele Pawk (Hollywood Arms) gives a knockout performance. She is smart and sexy with a voice that thrills. It is just a shame she doesn’t have more stage time.
A highlight of the musical is Jane Powell’s portrayal of Mama Mizner. The star of stage and screen delivers an exhilarating performance as the saucy matriarch. Although her voice may not be what it used to be, Powell’s presence lends an air of dignity to the proceedings.
Joining the group is another Broadway veteran, Gavin Creel. As Addison’s spoiled lover, Hollis Bessemer, Creel is boyish and, when called for, sufficiently petulant.
Renowned director and producer Harold Prince directs the piece with choreography by Michael Arnold. Although it is artfully directed, some of the transitions between scenes seem muddled and an important number in the second act is a bit too chaotic.
Visually, the show works on some levels. The costume design by Miguel Angel Huidor is quite effective. Eugene Lee’s set is uninspired, with the exception of one piece in the wedding scene.
Bounce has gone through numerous incarnations, including several different name changes over the years. Now that it has made it to the Kennedy Center, it is hopeful that the show will make it all the way to Broadway. Hopefully, for the producers’ sake Bounce will spring to life on the great white way. Sadly, the DC production lands with a thud. Bounce runs at the Kennedy Center through November 16th.
The Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater
Cast List (In alphabetical order)
Hollis Bessemer: Gavin Creel