Tuesday, 4 May 2010

[title of show] ***

 [title of show]
Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, book by Hunter Bell 
Produced by Magnormos
Theatreworks until May 4 to 15, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The title of this musical is [title of show]. If you ever fill in an arts funding form (don’t bother!) it’s the first line. Creators, Jeff Bowen (David Spencer), and Hunter Bell (Michael Lindner), bent all the guidelines for writing a musical. So successful was their rebellion that they won three OBIE awards and were nominated for a Tony.

The music conforms to recognisable styles but the story, lyrics and dialogue break with tradition. Bowen and Bell, two gay New Yorkers who work in musicals, write a show about two gays guys creating a musical about themselves creating a musical. Get it?

We watch the friends complain about doing crummy jobs, writing a show, casting their friends, Heidi (Lara Thew) and Susan (Laura Fitzpatrick) and musician, Mary (Sophie Thomas), rehearsing songs, sending their application to the New York Music Theatre Festival and waiting for success to hit them like a truck.

The creators played themselves in the original production (there’s even a song called “I Am Playing Me”), but, for this production, director, Aaron Joyner, casts locals. Their four voices blend beautifully in a range of peppy tunes with quirky, funny lyrics.

 The wry, camp often hilarious, dialogue keeps the story romping along. When it stalls, the characters simply say, “This scene’s been going on too long” – black out. No lighting effects, set changes or pyrotechnics. Not until the producers stick their noses in, forcing the creators to argue over script changes. (Change It, Don’t Change It.)

The characterisations are not complex but Spencer has fun as pedantic composer Jeff, while Lindner relishes playing flamboyant, ambitious Hunter. Fitzpatrick is composed as the sardonic Susan and Thew employs her big voice as the colourful Heidi.

The show pokes fun at the expectations, budgets and predictable content of the musical, its producers, casting decisions, cheesy lyrics and awful rhymes. It is constantly self-referential; they talk about themselves, refer to the audience, make jokes about their dialogue and argue about selling out to Broadway. The songs follow the narrative with titles including: Two Nobodies in New York, An Original Musical, The Tony Award Song, Secondary Characters and Awkward Photo Shoot.

The last song says it all; “I’d rather be nine people’s favourite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favourite thing.” Never sell out. Never surrender.

By Kate Herbert

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