Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
[title of show]
There's an element of [title of show] that speaks to self-professed theatre geeks in the same way The Drowsy Chaperone's Man in Chair did. The characters love Broadway, but in that outsider-looking-in way that admires, adores and desperately wants to be a part of it. They quote lines to each other, knowing without asking that they'll be understood. And because the audience of [title of show] is largely made up of that same sort of theatre geek, the lines quotedand the characters on stage quoting themare instantly recognized. If we aren't these people, we certainly know them. And with that knowledge comes an affinity. We cheer for them and want them to succeed, for all of us theatre geeks everywhere.
I'm getting ahead of myself. [title of show] came about when two guys, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, decided to write a new musical to submit to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And, ultimately, Jeff and Hunter decided that the story of their new musical would be the story of Jeff and Hunter writing a new musical to submit to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It's a clever idea, and it results in a show simultaneously operating on two planes: there's the already-written musical, [title of show], which is being performed in front of you at the Celebration Theatre; and there's [title of show], the musical that Jeff and Hunter are writing to submit to the festival. The fact that both of these things are happening simultaneously results in all sorts of delightfully self-aware moments, like when the guys stop a song to argue a lyric they're singing, or question whether they shouldn't rewrite the scene change they just did.
The witty fun is tempered, though, by the show's more serious side. Because, as the play-within-the-play starts achieving success, the play you're watching starts exploring the parts of the world of musical theatre that aren't all that magical. Should Hunter and Jeff make changes to their work to make it more accessible to a wider audience (and therefore more lucrative)? Arguments break out between the guysand Susan and Heidi, two of their friends who were part of the journey and are also part of the show. It's the age-old fight between "show" and the "business"; [title of show] isn't covering any new ground here. This is a necessary part of the showif only to set up "Nine People's Favorite Thing," by far the best song in the piecebut as it isn't nearly as inventive as the earlier part of the musical, it could probably do with a little trimming.
The leads are solid. Jeffrey Landman is believable as the Type-A Jeff, who is always making corrections to others but is still genuinely likeable. Micah McCain is a good match for him as Hunter, the one more likely to think with his heart. The women fare somewhat less better. Although Jennifer R. Blake and Carey Peters have a good share of stage time, their characters are less developed. Blake is Susan, the one with a corporate day job, while Peters is Heidi, the one with a couple of Broadway ensemble creditsand that's about all we've got from them. When Heidi is learning/singing the song that Jeff wrote for her to show off her talents, there's nothing very showy about itthere's too much focus on the part of [title of show] that's telling the story of the musical being written, and not enough focus on the part that's the show being performed. You get the feeling that when the actual Heidi performed the role on stage, she might have grabbed her spotlight moment a bit more.
Which leads to what is probably my biggest criticism of the show: with [title of show] evolving with each new production, why doesn't the version licensed to regional theatres take into account that it's being licensed to regional theatres? The real Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan took this show as far as they couldbut at some point, they've had to say goodbye to the piece, to let other people play the roles they've created, and to send their baby off into the world to make its way without them. Without acknowledging this fact, the show we're now watching seems incomplete.
[title of show] continues through September 11, 2010, at the Celebration Theatre. For tickets and information, see www.celebrationtheatre.com.
Celebration Theatre in association with David Elzer presents the Los Angeles premiere of [title of show]. Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen; Book by Hunter Bell. Michael A. Shepperd, Artistic Director/Director; Michael C. Kricfalusi, Managing Director; Tijuana Gray, Producer; Jim Halloran, Producer; Erick Long, Associate Producer; Gregory Nabours, Music Director; Nik Roybal, Assistant Director; Ameenah Kaplan, Choreographer; Jeffrey Landman Dance Captain; Marcedes Clanton, Production Stage Manager; Kurt Boetcher, Scenic Designer; Matthew Brian Denman, Lighting Designer; Veronica J. Lancaster, Sound Designer; Michael O'Hara, Prop Designer; Raffel Sarabia, costume Designer; Jami Rudofsky, Casting Director; David Elzer/DEMAND PR, Publicist, Michael Calas, Photographer; Kurt Koehler, Graphic Design.