Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review of [title of show]

The following is based on a previous review of the show.

[title of show], the affable and at times amusing musical now playing at Playhouse-on-Park in West Hartford, gives hope to the multitudes of individuals that dream of creating a show for The Great White Way. Hunter Bell, who wrote the show’s book; and Jeff Bowen, the score; were two out of work actors when the genesis of their quirky, decidedly downtown flavored show, came together. Simply, with three weeks until the submission deadline for the 2004 New York Musical Theater Festival, the two men concocted a musical based on two struggling actors named, surprisingly, Jeff and Hunter, who have only three weeks to write a musical for an upcoming festival. The rest is, as they say, theatrical history:
1.    Their entry was accepted.
2.    After playing their six performances at the New York Musical Theater Festival, an Off-Broadway producer optioned the production for an open run at the Vineyard Theater.
3.    A cast album was recorded and released on Ghostlight Record.
4.    After the Off-Broadway stint, the two collaborators produced a series of Internet videos for YouTube to keep interest in their off-spring alive.
5.    The videos reignited interest from producers.
6.    The newly tweaked [title of show] opened on Broadway.
Peej Mele as Hunter, Miles Jacoby as Jeff, Ashley Brooke as Susan, Amanda Forker as Heidi, Austin Cook as Larry.  Photo Credit: Meredith Atkinson
So, what exactly is [title of show]? Well, it is not a large scale musical with a huge cast, lavish sets, over produced production numbers, or a fully stocked pit band. [title of show] consists of four, casually dressed people—Hunter (Peej Mele) and Jeff (Miles Jacoby), and their two female friends—Susan (Ashley Brooke) and Heidi (Amanda Forker)--who work on bringing the musical to life in Hunter’s slightly drab apartment. With only four chairs on stage, along with musical director, Larry (Austin Cook), sitting behind his keyboard—the sole musical accompaniment, [title of show] concentrates on the actor’s angst and insecurities and, finally, their exuberance as they conceive and mold their show.

The 100 minute, intermission-less production, caters to a more knowing theater going crowd. Obscure musical theater and cultural references populate the show.  One of the more creative numbers is the song “Monkeys and Playbills,” which showcases memorable, and not so memorable, Broadway flops within its lyrics.  They include such duds as “Dude,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Smile” and many others.  The January 22, 2017 broadcast of my radio program, “On Broadway,” features many of these songs.
Miles Jacoby as Jeff, Amanda Forker as Heidi.  Photo Credit: Meredith Atkinson
The four actors are good-natured and bring an impetuous flair to their performances, but they don’t necessarily gel as a group.   Individually, Peej Mele is a tad over-the-top as Hunter.  There could have been less histrionics on his part.  Miles Jacoby, as Jeff, is the ying to his partner’s yang, but more energy on his part would have enlivened the duo’s partnership.  Ashley Brooke, as Susan, is game for the work-in-progress nature of the musical, but could have upped her avidity to the role.  Amanda Forker gives Heidi a knowing and affecting, world-weariness to show biz life.  The actress also has a dynamic singing voice.  Austin Cook, as Larry the musical director, almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery of dialogue snippets and very impressive keyboard prowess.

The score by Jeff Bowen can be witty and knowing, without being overly challenging to the ears.  The direction by David Edwards is breezy and light.  There is a lot of silliness, schtick, and somewhat choreographed routines to keep the four thespians occupied.  The show has a somewhat slapdash quality to it, which stays in line with the nature of the musical’s creation.  The production, though, would have been helped with a greater dollop of energy and fine-tuning of the characterizations.

[title of show], a cheerful and diverting musical that provides proof in the power of positive thinking as well as being a tonic for musical theater aficionados.  Playing through January 29th.

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