Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
[title of show] follows the process of two young writers creating a musical (Bowen and Bell writing this one). It is most tailored to musical theatre fanatics who can easily rattle off the titles of such flop shows as Sail Away and Kwamina, but this cast is so endearing that the appeal of this musical can extend to most audiences.
[title of show] with went from a New York Musical Theatre Festival premiere in 2004 to an Off-Broadway production in 2006 and then to Broadway in 2008all with the original cast (Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell, and Heidi Blickenstaff) essentially playing themselves, so it is interesting to see fresh faces taking on these roles. In a cast of equals, Peej Mele seems to stand out just a bit as the character of Hunter, the bookwriter of the show. Mele was terrific in Playhouse on Park's recent production of A Chorus Line, and he is even more outrageous and funny in [title of show]. With his big smile and way with delivering a line, this actor provides the spark in each of his scenes.
That is not to say that the other three don't shine, too, because they most certainly do. As Jeff, the composer and lyricist, Miles Jacoby has a wonderful singing voice, and his chemistry with Peej Mele's Hunter is palpable. Jacoby is most outstanding in his number, "An Original Musical," in which he Jeff fights with the blank page. Jacoby was a stand-by for the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and he certainly brings a great deal of authority and confidence to the show.
The two women in this production are pretty evenly matched, each terrific in her own way. As the sassy Susan, Ashley Brooke brings a lot of attitude and is extremely funny. Amanda Forker possesses a particularly stellar singing voice and mines the humor in the role of Heidi for all it's worth. Perhaps the best moment for these two actresses is when they are left alone onstage to deliver the hilarious "Secondary Characters" song.
This staging of [title of show] is appropriately minimalist, with a nice backdrop provided by scenic designer Marcus Abbott (who is also responsible for the precise lighting design). Lisa Steier provides suitable and attractive costumes and, if there is an unsung hero in the show, it is music director Austin Cook, who plays the keyboard and also plays the character of Larry, who has his own share of humorous lines and moments in the musical.
The reason Playhouse on Park's production of [title of show] works so well is that everyone involved provides their own fresh take and energy, and the actors perform the show as if it were being staged for the first time. That is saying quite a lot, when comparing to the original actors playing themselves. And, while I thought that this show might be too geared toward musical theatre fans to appeal to the general public, I was proven wrong. By the time the cast gets to the exhilarating "Nine People's Favorite Thing," near the conclusion, Playhouse on Park's staging of [title of show] spreads joy throughout the theatre.
[title of show] continues at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford CT through January 29th, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.