By Scott Brown and Anthony King
Directed by John Sadowsky
Produced by Landless Theatre Company
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
If you have ever been curious about the formula for a successful Broadway musical, you must attend Landless Theatre Company’s highly entertaining production of Gutenberg! The Musical! During this show, two aspiring authors present a hilarious parody of those ingredients while pitching their work to the audience, which they hope contains a big-time Broadway producer.
The hero of their musical epic is Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the mechanical printing press. Since detailed records on his life are scant, the show’s creators are free to resort to historical fiction, which they explain is “fiction that’s true.” Among their fictional creations are a love interest for Gutenberg named Helvetica and an arch nemesis power-mad evil monk.
Those two young men with a dream, Bud Davenport (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) and Doug Simon (Matt Baughman), act out their full-length musical with a cast of dozens. In order to portray all of these characters, they don different baseball caps with printed character names. (Trust me, it works and it’s much funnier than it sounds.)
This show, a recent off-Broadway hit, is clever from start to finish. In fact, the show is even funny before it officially begins. We hear the two players who “unknowingly” have their microphones on while backstage as they discuss their hopes for the show, do vocal warm-up exercises, and discuss members of the audience.
Once they enter, Messrs. Baughman take command of the stage with a high-energy performance full of priceless bits. Aided by the deft direction of John Sadowsky, the players mine fully every available comedic vein. Their performance features humor both high and low, aided by endearing characterizations, clever use of props, and some hilariously awful dance moves.
The PG humor occasionally deals with naughty or semi-tasteless topics, but always in a light way (think vintage Mel Brooks). Although you don’t need to know anything about the theatre to enjoy the production, long-time Broadway fans will snicker knowingly at different points in the show.
The show shines brightest, however, with its mock Broadway musical numbers. As you listen closely to the lyrics of Helvetica’s song of longing for Gutenberg, you are reminded of the stereotypical number sung by the young leading lady of almost every Disney musical. The obligatory big rock number that closes act one similarly summons up many modern Broadway hits. A side-splitting “big cast number” in act two has to be seen to be appreciated. Almost every number has a nice hammy ending that earns mass audience laughter.
An indispensable key to the success of the show is the work of music director and on-stage accompanist Charles Johnson. His talented and expressive keyboard work always fits the mood of the song. Further, as a silent participant in some of the action, his facial expressions are equally expressive and entertaining.
The show moves swiftly through to its conclusion without an actual intermission, but including a fun break in the show’s pitch after act one. The players help the audience through some stretches, discuss the rest room break that’s not feasible, and distribute snacks. Their ability to play off the audience with some improvisational bits only confirms their quick comic skills.
The frustration in reviewing a show like Gutenberg! The Musical! involves resisting the urge to ruin the joy of the show by describing some of the best jokes. If you go, you will experience the highest ratio of laughs to ticket cost of any area show in recent years. Gutenberg! The Musical! deserves both of the exclamation points in its title.
Running Time: 1:25 (no intermission).
When: Until April 6, 2008. Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm.
Where: DC Arts Center (DCAC), 2438 18th St. NW, Washington, DC.
Tickets: $18. To purchase online, click here.
The Baughmans, along with Joel Markowitz, created a special podcast show for DCTS. To listen, click here.