[title of the show] at TheatreWorks is not for all

Hunter (Jamison Stern) Susan (Laura Jordan), Heidi (Farah Alvin), and Jeff (Ian Leonard) prepare their submission to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in the regional premiere of [title of show] at TheatreWorks. Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka

[title of the show]: Musical Comedy. Book by Hunter Bell, music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen. TheatreWorks at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View, Ca. (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org. June 3 –June 26, 2011.

[title of the show] at TheatreWorks is a throwback to the “Let’s put on a show” era.

The journey of [title of the show] from fruition to the Broadway stage will take a place alongside the charming children’s book The Little Engine That Could as an exhortation to succeed against terrible odds. Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen did just that starting with a libretto and music about their trials and tribulations of writing a musical, submitted and accepted for production at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. In the process they elicited the aid of Actors Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff and they were off and running. The show did not make it to Broadway until July 2008 and it earned a Tony nomination for Bell.

It is a musical comedy about two guys with the help two girls writing the musical. With the deadline for submission rapidly approaching they decide to write an original musical about writing a musical with only four actors and a piano. Of course they write themselves into the script. For the TheatreWorks regional premiere the actors are , in order of appearance, Jeff (Ian Leonard), Hunter (Jamison Stern), Susan (Laura Jordan) and Heidi (Farah Alvin) with William Liberatore on the piano. The result is an amiable but hardly charismatic pastiche of insider jokes, theater and people references that requires a glossary in the program for the uninitiated.

Within the play, the creators worry their show would have a limited audience and this is probably true. That is not to say, it is not enjoyable. It has some clever lines, some of them garnering solid laughs. But at 100 minutes of running time without intermission it is more than a bit too long. All the singing voices are acceptable with Farah Alvin delivering a knockout with “I Am Playing Me.” “Die Vampire, Die” is a rousing production number, if one can visualize such with “four chairs and a piano.”

There are scenes with very, very clever visual staging (Kate Edmunds) one being “Monkeys and Playbills” but these are minimal. It is great fun to see TheatreWorks musical director on stage for the entire performance adding a touch of class to the shenanigans. Conflict does arise as one would expect from egos associated with the theatre. This allows the writers to throw in a semi-maudlin reconciliation with “A Way Back to Then.” “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” is faith affirming vocal and should have been the finale but it was not to be.

Director Meredith McDonough keeps the comedy on line with great pacing, but she is at a disadvantage with the male actors who would be more at home in a college show.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com