Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Gutenberg! The Musical!
The Temporary Theatre

Steve Isom and Ben Nordstrom
Musicals, of course, can be about anything. But the most unlikely topic may be the "backers audition," the private CliffsNotes distillation of a show for potential investors. There was Off-Broadway's 2000-vintage comedy The Big Bang and for sheer energy and earnest enthusiasm, it's a great setting. In this case, we actually get sucked into the action of the alleged musical itself, ridiculous as it is. The only problem is that the on-stage "authors" of Gutenberg! The Musical! haven't had the gumption to invite any financial angels to their bare-bones production. They live on hope. Foolish, fabulous hope.

Gutenberg, however, lived on wine-pressing in the town of Schlimmer, Germany, according to the two exuberant men on stage (actually, Wikipedia says he was a goldsmith in Strasbourg at this pivotal point in his life). And, as is now widely known, he invented the printing press, singlehandedly spreading literacy and learning around the world. Gosh, why not write a musical about him? And why let the facts get in the way of a frantic, antic show like this?

This backers audition is a fantastic, outrageous mess, thanks to its two performers, Steve Isom and Ben Nordstrom, as the creative team that sings and dances like mad for nearly 100 minutes, selling Gutenberg! to angels who quite probably aren't even there. And, in spite of this budgetary existentialism, Mr. Nordstrom seems to spend half the time in mid-air, in comic-balletic leaps and bounds, while Mr. Isom soars with a kind of stage-struck liberation that every theater person has seen, but only a lucky few have truly experienced. Bobby Miller directs the show by Scott Brown and Anthony King, giving his actors a million clever, wacky things to do, and Ellen Isom damn near kills them both with an endless variety of razzle-dazzle choreography.

The great inventor—well, okay, he apparently only invented that one thing—has an arch-nemesis, too: an evil monk, who wants to keep the rules of the Elizabethan Bible hidden from the masses. And then there's Helvetica, Gutenberg's grape-stomping love interest, and her own internal conflict; and a town full of stage-ready rustics, who are whipped into an angry mob. But it's really just two guys rushing around like Hungarian plate-spinners, in a seemingly endless series of baseball hats with character names scrawled above the bill, so you can tell them apart from moment to moment. And when you see them come up into the light wearing a stack of five or six of these caps, one on top of another (to facilitate quick-changes), you can't help but wonder how they keep everything straight. Thanks to their cleverly hidden brains, these two terrific performers seem to get everything 100% right.

Henry Palkes is the long-suffering pianist in the shadows stage left, bearing up with great good grace through each of the the appallingly funny songs and dances. And ,thanks to a tiny bit off-stage help, there are even a few surprises along the way, like a big chorus-line number, to blow everyone's minds.

Through March 28, 2010 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan Ave., about four blocks east of I-55, between the Loughborough and Gasconade exits. For more information visit, or call (314) 631-8330.

Doug: Steve Isom*
Bud: Ben Nordstrom*
Charles: Henry Palkes

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association

Director: Bobby Miller
Choreographer: Ellen Isom
Musical Director: Henry Palkes
Lighting Design: Glenn Dunn
Costume Designer: Thommy Crain
Set Consultant: Bryan Schulte
Stage Manager/Props: Sarah Lynne Holt
Assistant Stage Manager: Anne Marie Groh
Master Electrician: Bess Moynihan
House Manager: Helen Hoepfner

Photo by John C. Lamb

-- Richard T. Green

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