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A CurtainUp Review
[title of show]
[title of show] Has plopped down on the Great White Way, Without Any Flash and Trash
By Amanda Cooper
Cast of <i> [Title] of Show
Hunter Bell (front) and Jeff Bowen (top) in [Title] of Show
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
If laughter truly is the best medicine, this show just might be a cure-all for musical theater aficionados everwhere. Filled with New York centric, gay centric, and musical theater centric jokes, [title of show] is one of Broadway's most recent surprise transfer stories. What started off as a cutsey little self-referential festival entry became a sassy, cult-like Off Broadway musical that has plopped down, with no added flash and trash, onto the Great White Way.

This musical about four theater people making a musical about four theater people making a musical pays homage to all those plays-inside-plays, while at the same time poking fun at them. Similarly, [title of show] is a love letter to the American Musical at the same time it mocks our current Broadway culture, and the theatrical devices that abound in commercial shows. The show's genius is how it balances out all these clashing concepts to create a wildy funny evening that seemingly has strong limitations on its audience viability.

Not much has changed since this show's Off Broadway run (see review of that productionafter this update). Some of the story conflicts that earlier had centered around their Off Broadway transfer are now based around their Broadway transfer. As a result there is some new material about the Off Broadway run itself, and the drama surrounding the possible Broadway opening.

The worry about [title of show] is, after all the theater geeks have cycled through the Lyceum Theater, who else will be filling this Broadway house? Can a show with so many inside jokes (if you missed some, there were plenty that went past me as well), about such an insular culture, appeal to a wider audience? Sure, there's a deeper universal message to dream big, and trust yourself -— but it's buried under plenty of theater fodder.

At the least, you have to give everyone involved major credit — they dreamed big, and it worked, dammit. Perhaps, even just for that achievement, let's hope they stick around.

[title of show]
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed and Choreographed By Michael Berresse
Performed by: Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff and Jeff Bown; with Larry Pressgrove on Piano
Set Design by Neil Patel
Costume Design by Chase Tyler
Sound Design by Acme Sound Partners
Lighting Design by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz
Choreography by Karinne Keithley
Production Stage Management by Martha Donaldson
Running time 105 minutes, no intermission
The Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, 212 239 6200
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 8:00pm; Saturday at 3:00pm and 8:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets $26.50 - $111.50.
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on a July 14, 2008 performance.

Song List
(the songs have been jiggered around a bit from the previous production)
  • Montage Part 1: September Song
  • Untitled Opening Number/ Company
  • Two Nobodies in New York Jeff and Hunterli> An Original Musical /Hunter and Jeff
  • Monkeys and Playbills /Company
  • Part of It All /Hunter and Jeff
  • I Am Playing Me / Heidi
  • What Kind of Girl Is She? /Heidi and Susan
  • Die Vampire, Die! / Susan and Company
  • Filling Out the Form /Company
  • Montage Part 1: September Song /Company
  • Montage Part 2: Secondary Characters /Susan and Heidi
  • Montage Part 3: Development Medley /Company
  • Change It, Don't Change It/Awkward Photo Shoot /Company
  • A Way Back to Then /Heidi
  • Nine People's Favorite Thing / Company
  • Finale /Company

—original review by Elyse Sommer

There'll come a day when we look back at the time
We spent writing this very show
Our attempt to stay above the derivative tricks
And the critical undertow
Our show, though small, will have been part of it all!
--- lyric from "Part of It All", in which Jeff and Hunter sing about their dreams of getting to the point of opening night parties, lunch with Bernadette Peters and posters at the Triton Gallery.

When a show announces itself in lower case letters with a bracketed name tag that's the equivalent of TBA [to be announced], my too cute and precociously charming for words antenna tends to go into alert mode. I didn't see the Festival production of [title of show], the latest small cast, one-man band musical to land on an off-Broadway stage, but this incarnation does indeed have a whiff of precociously charming overkill.

In addition to the nebulous naming conceit, [title of show] this autobiographical musical is stuffed with enough obscure allusions to make it a quiz game to delight the rather rarefied universe of show biz insiders, but it is likely to be less amusing and more of a head scratcher for anyone not quite so show business obsessed and knowledgeable. That makes [title of show] a rather daring enterprise for a theater like the Vineyard which caters to a wide range of discerning theater goers -- not just a specialized audience segment.

Though disarmingly simple, [title of show] isn't quite daring enough to be the ultimate, cutting edge new version of Judy and Mickey's famous and much loved Babes In Arms. Stuffed as it is with arcane as well as up-to-the-momement show biz trivia, it feels too insubstantial to appeal to more than a niche audience. At the performance I attended there was a distinct divide between the older and mostly sober faced audience members and the hysterically appreciative thirty somethings who predominated.

To my knowledge this is the first professional Off-Broadway production that isn't just a transfer from the two-year-old New York Music Festival (like Altar Boyz and the more recent I Love You Because), but one that is actually about the process of submitting a script to the Festival, having it presented, reviewed and possibly move on to a more durable professional life. And, while computer screens and internet chat rooms have been incorporated into a fair number of plays, this is also the first show to pay homage to an internet gossip page where theater generally, and musical theater in particular, are discussed passionately and ad infinitum. On the night I saw [title of show] it was obvious that many of these chatterati were in attendance, thrilled to have their very own two minutes of off-Broadway fame -- whooping it up and applauding every insider allusion and song.

The show has an impromptu aura of Seinfeld-like grown-ups into lots of navel gazing and still living like kids. The staging is bare bones -- a cast of four that includes song and lyric writer Jeff Bowen and librettist Hunter Bell playing themselves as well as Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff (also playing themselves); with props consisting of four chairs and a keyboard manned by musical director and arranger Larry Pressgrove. Unlike Seinfeld and company's show about nothing, Bowen and Bell do have a theme that applies to all who dream of doing something they love. For that matter it's a dual theme: First, if you want to pursue a creative dream, forget your fear of failing and go for it; second, if it looks as if you've grabbed the brass ring, don't let those who profess to know more than you make you change things so that it's more commercial but no longer your baby.

The story is developed mostly through a baker's dozen of songs that are pleasantly melodic if not especially memorable, but with lyrics that cover a lot of territory in terms of journeying through the whole process of a casually conceived collaboration to its miracle of miracles success. The spoken text involves phone calls and meetings, first about plans for submitting something for the festival, then doing it and, finally, dealing with the post festival strategies for taking their baby to the next level.

The nonmusical segments also include that by now all too familiar device of dialogue delivered via an answering machine -- in this case, various actresses phone in their excuses for not being able to be part of Hunter and Jeff's show (here, as in the many references to show business events, people and places, the callers' names aren't all going to ring a bell for casual theater goers -- though there are some funny bits like Victoria Clark, the current star of Light in the Piazza talking about her problems as a soccer mom and Emily Skinner saying she's available for the role now played by Heidi Blickenstaff who was once was a replacement for Skinner).

The performances are casual and quite winning, with Susan Blackwell's acting the most nuanced and Heidi Blickenstaff contributing the big belt factor to the singing. Michael Berresse, best known as a dancer, directs and choreographs. While the Vineyard stage is big enough for some complicated choreography the dance routines here match the bare bones staging. Though Beresse keeps the show moving along, the frequent song finales that leave the foursome frozen like a John Rogers group sculpture and the telephone answering machine blackouts tend to wear out their welcome.

In the final analysis, this song driven lesson plan for how to put on a musical may draw enough wannabe actors, writers, musicians and producers to keep the Vineyard filled for the length of its run. Unlike Avenue Q, which was cute and charming but not too much so to move from the Vineyard to Broadway (where it's still doing very well), [title of show] strikes me as way too inbred to travel any further. Neither did it have me cracking up as often as I was clearly intended to do. I'll therefore leave the last word to a man I talked to on the way to the subway who described himself as "a committed show queen and avid lurker" at Talking Broadway's chat board:" ;It was great -- well, okay, maybe not great, but I haven't laughed so much in a long while. With all the crap that life in New York deals you, that's enough for me."

{title of show] (same team as Off-Broadway but with a $55 ticket price, , ran at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, from 2/15/06 to 3/26/06 -- extended to 4/30/06. It was successful enough to re-open for limited 8-week run during summer 2006--and that run was extended to 10/01/06 and closing 10/12/08 after 13 previews and 102 performances.
Musical Numbers

  • Two Nobodies in New York/ Jeff & Hunter
  • An Original Musical/ Hunter & Jeff
  • Monkeys and Playbills/ Company
  • Part of It All / Hunter & Jeff
  • I Am Playing Me / Heidi
  • What Kind of Girl is She? / Heidi & Susan
  • Die Vampire, Die! / Susan & Company
  • Filling Out the Form / Company
  • September Song (Festival Medley) Company
  • Secondary Characters/ Susan & Heidi
  • Montage/Photo Shoot/ Company
  • A Way Back to Then/ Heidi
  • Nine People's Favorite Thing / Company

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