Ask any playwright and they’ll tell you that the only thing harder than writing a play is getting someone to produce it. Playwrights often jump through some pretty humiliating hoops just to get their play produced. In Nextstop Theater’s Gutenberg! The Musical!, audiences get to witness some of that desperation as Bud and Doug, an energetic and farcical musical comedy duo, play for the hilarity of the writer’s plight.
Director Evan Hoffman has made a smart choice by setting Gutenberg! The Musical! in a backstage area of Nextstop’s space and added tables for seating. That choice reflects the imagined world of the play: Bud and Doug are sad-sack writers, performing a reading of their latest musical creation for a crowd that (they hope) contains Broadway producers willing to bring their show to the Great White Way. The play devolves into a zany schlockfest as the writers play all of the parts in their sprawling musical and their pathetic personal lives leak into the performance.
Putting on this two hour farce is a ton of work for the two actors onstage. John Loughney plays Doug Simon, the seemingly forward book writer of the duo. Loughney does a fine job with the songs he’s given and an even better one with the laugh-out-loud, head-in-hands hilarious lines he gets from the text. His wry and often low-status lines could easily be fumbled, but Loughney’s sharp sense of comic timing sets the jokes up well. He even did some good improv cover when he momentarily blanked on some lines and lyrics. Loughney’s physicality is what solidifies his character and lets him play off the cuff so well; he has brought Doug’s body into his own, and it works very well.
Ryan Burke plays Bud Davenport with a charming and sweaty earnestness. As the musical half of the writing combo, he sings backup and leads throughout the show. Sometimes Bud takes the part of the ingénue, Helvetica, with the half heartbreaking half laugh-inducing song “I Can’t Read” where he/she pines for both literacy and Gutenberg!’s love. He does some exhausting work on “Might As Well (Go to Hell),” this time playing the entire backup chorus of rodent singers, modulating harmonies and all. Even more impressive than his hump-busting effort, his voice is truly lovely. Not only does he have pretty little vocal colorations (especially tremolos at the end of songs), but he also imitates famous Broadway voices and styles, mocking Rodgers and Hammerstein charm songs with the random inclusion of a song about biscuits or skewering Fiddler on the Roof’s often-cut second act patter song with “What’s the Word?”.
Those imitations are a key part of understanding how this musical goes from good to great. The entirety of Gutenberg! The Musical! is stuffed to the gills with meta-theatrical jokes. These jokes cover a broad range of pastiches: from Colm Wilkinson’s odd vocal diction in the original Broadway cast of Les Misérables to amusing structural justifications for their song choices that spoof some of today’s musical writers. So while I recommend the show to general audiences, theater buffs will get an extra kick from the show, making it a must see for that crowd.
Closes February 1, 2015
Industrial Strength Theatre
269 Sunset Business Park
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Tickets or call 703-481-5930
The designers keep their work to a minimum and not get in the way of the actors. Musical Director Steve Przybylski manages to keep the plethora of songs in balance, and he has drilled the actors well. Lighting designer AnnMarie Castrigno made a great choice in letting the lights be controlled by the actors from a rudimentary switchboard, which made for its own fun side action. Best of all was costume designer Kristina Martin, who gave the pair of performers some especially nice touches, putting the geeky Bud in suspenders with a burgundy velvet bowtie, which may be both the saddest and most perfectly characterizing costume piece I’ve ever seen onstage.
Overall, Nextstop has made a great choice with Gutenberg! The Musical! It’s a perfect fit for the space, they’ve got the right mix in the cast, and it’s very well-directed. Be sure to head out to Nextstop to catch this fun and energetic musical rumpus!
Gutenberg! The Musical! by Scott Brown and Anthony King .Directed by Evan Hoffmann . Featuring Ryan Burke and John Loughney . Musical Director: Steve Przybylski . Lighting design: AnnMarie Castrigno . Costume design: Kristina Martin . Produced by NextStop Theatre . Reviewed by Alan Katz.