Print this Page

NY Theater Reviews

Susan Blackwell, Jeff Bowen, Heidi Blickenstaff & Hunter Bell /Ph:Carol Rosegg

A SHOW ABOUT A SHOW ABOUT...

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

[title of show] is just the kind of show Broadway needs. It's real and bursting with serious ambition.

There are all sorts of reasons that smaller, quirkier musicals are making it to Broadway. There's the increasingly untenable world of commercial Off Broadway theater, and the fact that small musicals are millions of dollars cheaper to produce than a spectacle like Wicked. Add in the success of trailblazing quirksters like Avenue Q and Urinetown, and you've got a new Broadway recipe.

As a result, Rialto musicals are slowly negating the reputation for slick commercialism that they gained in the Lloyd Webber era. Sure, there are still some baubles that seem designed to separate people from their money, but more and more, the Broadway mix includes tuners with serious ambitions.

Right now, you can find exciting, honest-to-god artistry in Avenue Q, In the Heights, and Spring Awakening, not to mention a newcomer that's among the best shows in New York, [title of show.]

In the last four years, [title of show] has traveled from the New York Musical Theater Festival to Off Broadway's Vineyard Theater to Broadway, but you don't need my help to learn that: That's the plot. Composer-lyricist Jeff Bowen and librettist Hunter Bell have written a musical about two guys named Jeff and Hunter who are writing a musical called [title of show.] The guys play themselves, and when their characters decide to include their friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff in the cast, those actors play themselves, too.

So ostensibly, everything on stage-from the day Bowen and Bell decide to write a show to the day the Broadway producers call-actually happened. But the show is about much more than some theater geeks trying to write a hit. Ultimately, it's a beautiful, universal study of the human need to create.

Mixed in with industry in-jokes, there are touching scenes about artists afraid to express their ideas, about people afraid to show their truest selves. And as the on-stage [title of show] gets more and more popular, we see escalating conflicts: Should the gang censor their work to make it more appealing? Should the women get replaced with movie stars? It's not hard to find parallels in everyday life.

Even better, these insights are couched in sparkling wit and memorable songs. Die Vampire Die might be the catchiest tune ever written about self-doubt, and Bell's script never runs out of clever one-liners. And the performers are just as charming as their material.

So while there's hardly any set-just four chairs in a drab rehearsal room-and on-stage keyboardist Larry Pressgroveis the only musician, [title of show] feels as robust as any big-budget hit. It's exactly the kind of work Broadway needs.