The musical Bounce, with songs by Stephen Sondheim and a libretto by John Weidman (the two previously collaborated on Pacific Overtures and Assassins), played for six weeks at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (June 30-August 10, 2003), followed by four weeks at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. (October 21-November 16, 2003). These runs may have been considered tryouts for Broadway, but during the D.C. engagement the producers announced that the show would not be going to New York. They blamed a lack of theater space, but observers noted the negative reviews Bounce had received. For most shows that close out of town, that would have been the end of that, but Sondheim is such a celebrated figure in the musical theater, one whose flops (Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along, both of which made it to Broadway) are nearly as legendary as his hits, that Nonesuch Records recorded the show with the original cast, its commercial failure notwithstanding. Sondheim fans, who may have followed Bounce's long, tortuous gestation (which included rewrites, title changes, re-casting, workshops, and lawsuits), will welcome the result, if only because the songs are characteristic of the composer. It may be unfair, given Sondheim's musical sophistication and nearly unequalled gift for lyrical wit and rhyme, to complain that the Bounce score contains just another bunch of typical Sondheim songs. But it's hard to listen to the album without thinking of earlier compositions. For example, "Addison's Trip" is reminiscent of "Opening Doors" from Merrily We Roll Along, while "You" recalls "Hello, Little Girl" from Into the Woods. But if there's nothing new here musically, that is less of a problem than the characters and plot. Bounce concerns a couple of real-life brothers, one a con-man, the other a journeyman architect, following their ups and downs from Alaska to Florida over a period of 37 years (1896-1933), and even after their deaths. Sondheim has suggested that their jousting has the flavor of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road movies, but it's far more venomous than that -- when Wilson Mizner asks his brother if they're in heaven, Addison Mizner replies, "If guys like you go to Heaven, Willie, who has to go to Hell?" At the same time, the relationship between them and with their mother has distinctly incestuous overtones. Part of the problem, then, is one of mood. At times, the show is pitched as a light-hearted vaudeville, but at others it is deadly serious. At the end, however, the characters are not engaging, no matter how clever the lyrics they have to sing, and despite the efforts of an excellent cast led by television star Richard Kind, veteran film star Jane Powell, and stage performers Howard McGillin and Michele Pawk.
Bounce: A New Musical [Original Cast Recording] Review
by William Ruhlmann