Saturday, October 21, 2023

Gutenberg - the Musical -- Broadway

Every Broadway season should feature the lively comedic talents of Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells.  The two, who first lit-up the stage as the original stars of The Book of Mormon, display great chemistry together and are a joy to behold.  While they are saddled with lightweight material for their latest Broadway outing - Gutenberg! The Musical - Gad and Rannells still manage enough schtick and nuttiness to provide a humorous and entertaining show that generates more chuckles than outright laughter. 


The musical, which debuted Off-Broadway in 2006, tells the story of Bud Davenport and Doug Simon, two nursing home employees who decide one day to pen a Broadway musical.  They sink their life savings into writing and producing a one-shot production, minimally staged and with few props, to impress a big-time producer.  They come up with the idea of the life of Johannes Gutenberg, the creator of the printing press.  When they conduct research - via Google - they discover scant information about the German inventor, which allows them to create a piece of historical fiction - emphasis on the fiction.


The plot follows Gutenberg as he transforms his wine press to the haloed printing press.  Complications, of course, ensue.  Added to the mix are assorted townsfolk; Helvetica, the women who loves him; and, to add a dash of menace and intrigue, a Mad Monk.  Gad and Rannells portray all the varied roles as they don yellow visored baseball caps, with a character’s name emblazoned on front.  The gimmick works as Director Alex Timbers weaves in quick changes and even a chorus line of hats during one number.  In between scenes, Bud and Doug provide commentary on the show, reveal secrets of stagecraft, and disclose aspects of their personal lives.  These asides, including the introduction to the musical, are some of the funniest moments of the show

Scott Brown and Anthony King, who collaborated on the book, music, and lyrics bring a jocular wit and kookiness to the story.  Even with the talents of Gad and Rannells, the concept begins to run out of steam by its conclusion.  Their score, which includes such ditties as "I Can't Read," "Biscuits," "Stop The Press," and "Monk With Me" works well within the confines of the musical itself, but you won’t be humming any of the tunes as you leave the beautifully renovated James Earl Jones Theater (formerly the Cort Theater).


Josh Gad and Alex Rannells are inspired schlemiels.  Their tomfoolery and antics constantly light up the stage.  The two actors are clearly enjoying themselves and play wonderfully off the audience’s reactions.  What impressed me most about their performances was how diligently they were working to make the show succeed. 


Director Alex Timbers, who also guided the original Off-Broadway production, inserts enough gags and silliness to keep the production humming smoothly. His inclusion of the three-person band on-stage - the Middlesex Six (yes, there are only three of them), the best wedding band in New Jersey - furthers the illusion of a low-cost, threads-bare production.  Even with the constant barrage of shenanigans, there is a purposeful manner to the musical, which keeps it from spiraling out of control.


Gutenberg! The Musical, a beguiling and mirthful diversion, playing a limited run through January 28, 2024.



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