Stephen Sondheim’s Bounce opens at Goodman

Sondheim has a love-hate relationship with theater-goers and especially critics. The premises for his musicals are unusual, to say the least. In Sweeney Todd, a barber murders his clients, and his wife makes pies from the remains. Into the Woods, an adult version of familiar fairy tales, is definitely not for children. Bounce continues the pattern. Based on the lives of two brothers, Wilson and Addison Mizner, it follows their adventures from the gold fields of the Yukon to the land boom of the 1920s in Florida.

Opening with their deaths in 1933, Wilson in Hollywood and Addison in Florida, the plot begins with another death, that of their father. His advice was to bounce when plans go awry. The title and theme continue with grand dreams, fortunes made and lost, and relationships often ending in disaster.

Richard Kind plays Addison, and Howard McGillin is Wilson. Brief appearances are made by Jane Powell as Mama Mizner. Michele Pawk as Nellie, a Gold Rush dance hall girl who achieves her dreams by marrying a wealthy gentleman who conveniently dies soon after, shines in this production. She gives energy and brilliance to Bounce. The ensemble, with multiple roles, has dozens of costume changes. That alone must be a challenge.

All the right people are associated with the production. Harold Prince directs, John Weidman wrote the book, and the Goodman’s design team mounted the show. Stephen Sondheim wrote his first musical, Saturday Night, nearly 50 years ago. It was not staged then, and only a few years ago made its debut at Pegasus Theatre in Chicago. One of my favorites, the story set in Brooklyn shortly after World War II, is one of youth and their hopes for the future. A composer of genius, Sondheim went on to give us Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures and Sweeney Todd. Bounce came about with collaborators and several years of work. Originally titled Gold, it represents a work in progress.

John Weidman also wrote the book for Assassins. The off-Broadway production played in London’s West End and won the Drama Critics Award for Best Musical. A revival to be directed by Joe Mantello is scheduled to open at the Roundabout Theatre in 2004.

In spite of some reviews, audiences are filling the house at the Goodman. Just in case Bounce makes it on Broadway, they can say, “I’ve seen it.”

Note: Marin Mazzie in Man of La Mancha with Brian Stokes and Joe Mantello’s Take Me Out were adjoining ads in Sunday’s New York Times.

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