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(L-R) Jeremy Shamos and David Turner

WHEN BAD IS GOOD

By David Lefkowitz

Gutenberg! The Musical! has just been extended ten weeks...

Parade, Urinetown, Debbie Does Dallas, James Joyce's The Dead - in recent years, New York has become a mecca for unlikely musicals with surprising commercial promise. Add Gutenberg! The Musical! to the list of guess-they-knew-what-they-were-thinking-after-all" tuners. The show's current off-Broadway run at the Actors' Playhouse has just been extended ten weeks, to June 3.

Following its genesis at Upright Citizen's Brigade in 2003 (where Anthony King is artistic director), Gutenberg! proved a hit at the 2006 New York Musical Theater Festival, as well as at its January 2006 premiere at London's Jermyn Street Theater. After an early-winter 2006 run, the off-Broadway incarnation made an exodus from 59E59 Theaters and reopened Jan. 21 at the Actors' Playhouse, where it had been scheduled to close March 25. Box-office numbers led to an extension till the end of the season.

The critically acclaimed musical comedy, by Scott Brown and Anthony King, has already had a cast change, with David Turner taking over for Christopher Fitzgerald in mid-February. Turner and Jeremy Shamos play Broadway wannabes Doug and Bud, who hold a backer's audition for their splashy new musical - about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. Doug and Bud play all the parts in the intentionally bad show-within-a-show, which features such songs as "I Can't Read" and "Tomorrow is Tonight."

In his Feb. 21 column for Broadway.com, author Brown says he and King got the idea for Gutenberg! when King was an intern at Manhattan Theater Club and had to sit through reading after reading of new, unproduced (and mostly unproduceable) musicals. Wrote Brown, "...to say they were simply `bad' is to miss the point. They were, many of them, brilliantly bad. They were knockoffs of knockoffs of knockoffs. Most of them shared more DNA with the musical mega-spectacles of the '80s than with classic, golden-age shows... Others were frighteningly original in their awfulness... Even better, they were tremendously self-important, overblown and underbaked... They were the very best kind of very bad art. And they were passionate. The readings themselves were wonderfully surreal: There was something magically, inspiringly absurd about watching actors... describing dazzlingly cumbersome stage effects with nothing but mime and stage directions."