Broadway obsessives who can rattle off titles like Shogun: The Musical, Smile and Ruthless with as much authority as The Music Man and Les Misérables will find a special place in their heart for the wickedly clever meta-musical [title of show].
The off-Broadway cult favorite chronicles its own history as a show, first as an entrant to the New York Musical Theatre Festival (“the festival? THE KING’S FESTIVAL?” Get that joke and you’ll be right at home during [title of show]; NextStop’s reticent Sunday matinee audience could have used a few more members willing to laugh along audibly and engage with the players onstage). NextStop has added some additional layers to the show’s self-referentiality by finding four real-life performer friends to take on the roles of upstart composers Jeff and Hunter (references to the show’s composers Jeff Bowe and Hunter Bell), and their struggling performer friends Heidi and Susan.
[title of show]
closes January 27, 2019
Details and tickets
To thicken the plot, the quartet co-directed the piece themselves as well. They’ve got only four chairs and a keyboardist at their disposal (limitations written into the show itself), but they’ve added some winkingly familiar choreography and rapid scene changes to whisk us along at a brisk 90 minutes (one thing to keep an eye on, NextStop, – sound levels, which started out almost painfully high during Sunday’s matinee).
Bobby Libby (Jeff) and John Loughney (Hunter) are an immediately disarming pair, frankly sharing their ambitions to do something bigger than themselves in aspirational tunes like “Two Nobodies in New York” and “The Tony Award Song.” They have an easy rapport, and the chemistry keeps building once their female friends Heidi (Katie McManus), a somewhat successful Broadway actress (translation: she’s had two minor roles) and Susan (Jennifer Redford), a former hopeful who’s resigned herself to her dull day job, show up on the scene. That pair’s unfamiliar and suspicious of each other (feelings brought to life in the charming duet, “What Kind of Girl is She?”) but eventually form a bond as well, and it’s seeing how [title of show’s] gradual rise to success affects the friendship between these four that lends the piece its heart.
Belle & Bowe’s tunes have a catchy, stream-of-consciousness quality to them, but they never let you forget their roots as true Broadway obsessives (“Monkeys and Playbills,” a song almost entirely fashioned from a list of devastating musical flops, is one opportunity to show off). Winking nods to everything from Wicked’s comedic number “Popular” to Broadway’s most devastating flop, “Carrie,” whiz by almost too fast to absorb. A few numbers deserve a little nitpicking (a joke that has Loughney starting off as a black-sounding character in “An Original Musical” falls awkwardly flat; extended metaphor tune “Die, Vampire, Die!” directed at the monsters of doubt in one’s own head, could use some trimming), [title of show] has a collection of witty and often moving numbers.
The show ends on a bright, optimistic note — anyone who’s had a smidgen of a dream to see themselves on stage, at least when they were younger, will find themselves a little misty-eyed during “A Way Back to Then” (also a lovely showcase for McManus’ powerful, tender voice). Ultimately, it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to reveal that our heroes decide to stick to their guns and keep their show’s integrity intact, declaring they’d rather be “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing. Here’s to hoping this scrappy little show is finding those nine new audience members night after night.
[title of show]. Co-directed and starring Bobby Libby, John Loughney, Katie McManus, and Jennifer Redford. Music director: Elisa Rosman. Lighting Design: Lynn Joslin. Sound Design: Evan Hoffman. Produced by NextStop Theatre Company.