Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show gives truth to the old adage ‘a musical isn’t written, it’s rewritten’. Previous productions in the US have seen incarnations of the show under the titles Wise Guys, Bounce and Gold. Now Road Show – book by John Weidman – arrives in London for its UK premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory, directed by John Doyle. Having directed a previous production Off-Broadway in 2008, Doyle reconceives the show for the Menier space, creating a traverse staging with the audience sitting either side of the action. The cast are also positioned at the far ends of the space with the chorus observing the main characters at various points in the piece.

Unlike some of Sondheim’s greatest work (arguably Merrily, Company, Follies), Road Show does not contain soaring emotional truths of what might have been. Rather it is a yarn of a story, concerning the Mizner brothers, Addison and Wilson, as they travel across America, searching for the American dream. Time-wise, the show takes in the early 20th century period from the Gold Rush in Alaska to the real estate boom in Florida in the 1930s. As the elder of the two brothers, David Bedello brings out the bravado of Wilson, a gentle rogue whose life consists of a series of risk-taking ventures regardless of who or what is at stake. However, the evening belongs to Michael Jibson as Addison, who has more integrity than his brother Wilson, going his own way and becoming an architect. Jibson’s performance has extraordinary depth in his character’s search for a sense of purpose in life. Nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in Our House, he would surely win next time around if Road Show transferred up West. He also gets to sing the best number of the evening – The best thing that has happened – as a duet with Jon Robyns, who plays Addison’s handsome artist lover Hollis Bessemer, desperate to establish an artist’s colony in Palm Beach. Here is a love song that will surely silence once and for all those who say that Sondheim doesn’t write melodies.

The rest of the company are equally assured as the two leads. Glyn Kerslake’s Papa Mizner (surely too young!) assures the boys on his deathbed that It’s In Your Hands Now. Mr Kerslake played army hero Chris in Miss Saigon – another American dream and my first ever West End show some twenty odd years ago – and more than fulfils his early promise. He is well matched by Gillian Bevan as his wife Mama Mizner, who lives through her son in the poignant Isn’t he something. Having seen Ms Bevan in the recent Donmar reunion of Company – and indeed at the Donmar itself in Grand Hotel – I couldn’t help but wonder why she isn’t cast in more musicals (she’d surely be a fabulous Norma Desmond). The rest of the hardworking company – including Fiona Dunn, Adrian Der Gregorian and Julie Jupp – put in great ensemble work, playing the many and various characters at different points in the brothers’ journey.

The Menier have installed ceiling fans to try to keep the temperature down, but it still gets incredibly hot in there at times – the performance I caught was delayed midway through due to one poor audience member (now recovered) fainting in the heat. Having a bottle of water to hand is a necessity there. Water notwithstanding, the latter part of the show – played straight through without interval à la Passion at the Donmar – loses clarity in places, as the action (though streamlined by Doyle when originally working on the piece) moves on to Boca Raton where the brothers deal in real estate. Both brothers have lost their lives by a final, surreal scene as they set out on the road to eternity – which Wilson, ever the optimist/opportunist, declares is “the greatest opportunity of all!”

Much of the Menier auditorium is filled with bank notes strewn around the stage at various points during the evening – alas, on closer inspection the notes are marked ‘for theatrical use only’. Although the money is fake, this very American piece about opportunism and family and brotherly love – though not Sondheim’s best ever work – still cannot fail to touch the heart and soul.