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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
[title of show]

Well, look at it this way; anything we write will be better than Shogun: The Musical — Jeff
Aw, snap, I thought Shogun: The Musical was good— Hunter
Actually, I never saw it, so that's not fair — Jeff
I didn't see it either, but I have opinions about stuff I've never seen all the time. In fact I have a whole riff on Ruthless: The Musical, and guess what? — Hunter
Title of Show
Tyler Maynard as Hunter
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
"We'll start with the seed of an idea, Then plant it onto paper with a Dixon Ticonderoga and then watch it sprout into a musical and then we'll help to make it grow bigger," sing young musical theater collaborators Hunter (Tyler Maynard) and Jeff (Seth Rudetsky.) For a while there is every reason to hope that these two men obsessed with the American musical theatre — one a composer, the other, a writer— will actually dream up a fun and funny show without having an idea what it might be about. But what if what they come up with turns out to be blatantly self-indulgent and gratuitously self-congratulatory? Could these not be just the elements that might delight their core audience?

To bring you up to date: [title of show] did win over its core audience when it opened to generous reviews Off Broadway in 2006. This encouraged producers to transfer the show to Broadway in 2008. Only they were wrong. The core had been there and done that and [title of show] closed after three months of meager business. Am I being mean in sharing this with you? Did this intimate little show really deserve the pockets of adulation it got? Part of the charm could be said to be the presence of the show's collaborators Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell) playing themselves both Off Broadway and on Broadway. The George Street Theatre production doesn't have that audacious conceit. But that's only part of the problem in this production.

In one respect, a contemporized spoof of the old Mickey/Judy-Come on kids-let's-put-on-a-show theme, but from another point of view it offers proof that a good show needs more than naïve optimism and a wishful willfulness to succeed. During the course of the show we are privy to the questionably creative process taken by the composer Jeff (Rudetsky) and lyricist Hunter (Maynard) as they collaborate on a show they plan to submit for consideration in an impending musical theater festival. The best and brightest idea they can come up with is to write about their inability to think of a good idea for a show. Hence, they begin to write about the process.

Unfortunately, this not-very-compelling conceit is limited by a conveniently reflexive text and an only intermittently clever score. A lot of time is devoted to Jeff and Hunter as they coyly banter back and forth with chatter that feeds as much upon their being gay as it does upon show biz trivia. They somehow manage to process all of this as the basis of their musical. There are moments when some insightful, inventive, and ingratiating ideas surface. It doesn't take long for their effort to wear out its wit and welcome.

The show has been changed a bit since I originally saw it. Surprisingly cut is a through joke that was, for me, the funniest part of the show. It involved their attempt to interest some well known performers to be in their show. A series of telephone responses to their casting pitch from Victoria Clark, Emily Skinner and Marin Mazzie got laughs, even if it did come mainly from show biz insiders. Unfortunately, the whole show is too preciously and tiresomely punctuated with references to obscure musicals and the name-dropping of untalented celebrities.

I would wager that only audience members who come armed with as much in-side theater knowledge as the collaborators will appreciate the humor. For that matter, few of the allusions that propel the show seem earmarked for general consumption. A helpful and amusing glossary of show biz terms and obscure titles is included in the program. (Example: Henry, Sweet Henry, the best damned Don Ameche musical ever.)

Jeff and Hunter enlist two friends to perform and to participate in the creation of the show: Susan Mosher, a comedic brunette, plays Susan and Lauren Kennedy, a vivacious blonde, plays Heidi. They are entrusted with a number of songs that might be referenced as defining. Kennedy sings the show's most substantive song "I Am Playing Me." Will their show be selected and will it go on for future development? The answer is before your eyes.

Once their show is selected for further development by the O'Neill Center (no kidding), a mild sense of panic overcomes them. Their attempt to turn their show into something more than "self-serving bullshit" and into something good and commercial allows us to begin caring for these collaborators, as loyalties to each other and dedication to their profession surface.

Maynard, who won Outstanding Breakthrough Actor at the Theatre World Awards in 2005 for his lauded portrayal of Mark in the long run hit Altar Boyz, is the formidable wind behind the otherwise frayed sails in this show. No one can dispute that Rudetsky's skill as a theatre humorist/writer and as a notable pianist/conductor is non pareil, but his performance skills haven't been honed to the same degree. As a result, we can only respond to his enthusiasm.

All the action takes place on a bare stage with only a few chairs and a piano. However, as simple as is the set design by R. Michael Miller, it allows for some imaginatively interpolated visuals, the work of Projection Designer Michael Clark. The piano is given prominence and played with amiable aplomb by music director Jesse Vargas (Larry).

Matt Lenz has directed with the confidence of someone who realized that confidence, under the circumstances, will have to suffice. For whatever it is worth, [title of show] refers to the space in the application for the theatre festival that needs to be filled in by the collaborators. That's funny.

For Curtainup's reviews of the Off-Broadway production (lukewarm by one critic, more up by a critic more attuned to it) go here

[title of show]
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Matt Lenz

Cast: Seth Rudetsky (Jeff), Tyler Maynard (Hunter), Susan Mosher (Susan), Lauren Kennedy (Heidi), Jess Vargas (Larry)
Set Design: R. Michael Miller
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Philip Rosenberg
Sound Design: Walter Trarbach
Projection Design: Michael Clark
Music Direction: Jesse Vargas
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes no intermission
George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
(732)-246- 7717
Performances: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m.
Tickets ($26.50-$63.50)
Previews began 11/16/10
Opened 11/19/10
Ends 12/12/10
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/19/10

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