Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

[title of show]

Jenna Sokolowski, Sam Ludwig (seated), James Gardiner and Erin Driscoll
[title of show], Broadway's delightful little musical that could, is receiving its Washington area premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. While this production doesn't have authors Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and their friends, singers Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell and pianist Larry Pressgrove, to repeat their self-referential New York triumph—starring in a show they wrote about how they came to write this particular show—Signature and director Matthew Gardiner have added a few levels of complexity to this deceptively simple theatrical puzzle.

To begin with, the characters retain the names and quirks of their originators, but the director has organized a tight ensemble of talented performers whose easy camaraderie stems from a shared history at Signature. James Gardiner, twin brother of the director, plays Hunter; playing Heidi is Erin Driscoll, who appeared opposite James in The Witches of Eastwick; Jenna Sokolowski, who played Little Sally to Driscoll's Hope Cladwell in Urinetown (and both received Helen Hayes Awards), is Susan; and Sam Ludwig, who joined Driscoll in the just-closed production of Sweeney Todd, is Jeff. Joining them is pianist Gabriel Mangiante, who has worked on several Signature musicals and cabaret performances.

Beyond that, the Gardiner brothers have another major credit at Signature that serves as a touchstone for this production. Like Hunter, James wrote the book for a four-character musical that premiered on Broadway in 2008, and Matthew was its assistant director. However, unlike [title of show], which ran for 102 performances, their show, Glory Days, closed on opening night. (Nick Blaemire, who wrote the music and lyrics for Glory Days, has no connection with the current production.) In other words, the creative staff has sprinkled little homages to Glory Days throughout the show among the other, obsessively detailed theater in-jokes.

The question, then, is whether [title of show] is sufficiently accessible to audiences who don't follow the minutiae of the last several decades of the Broadway musical. Yes: the premise, while postmodern in execution, goes back to those backstage sagas of spunky kids putting on their own musical in an old barn. It's also a warm-hearted look behind the scenes of aspiring theater professionals as Susan agonizes over whether to quit her office job, Heidi weighs the ups and downs of a possible role in a big-budget musical, and Hunter and Jeff use such new media as a webcam and this very site's All That Chat message board to build buzz. (Of course, they also get in a dig at online critics, so maybe one shouldn't pay too much attention after all ...)

Signature Theatre
[title of show]
April 6th —June 27th
Book by Hunter Bell
Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Jeff: Sam Ludwig
Hunter: James Gardiner
Susan: Jenna Sokolowski
Heidi: Erin Driscoll
Larry/Piano: Gabriel Mangiante
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

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