Gutenberg: The Musical is an hysterical little gem now playing at the ALT Theatre. Located in a cavernous warehouse on Great Arrow Drive. ALT Theatre is comfy little space situated three floors up. Fortunately, I was rescued after the first flight of stairs and managed to hitch a ride up the secret freight elevator. (Someone is usually at the front door to welcome patrons and ferry those who, like me, need a nap after climbing that many stairs.)
Gutenberg is the brain-child of Scott Brown and Anthony King, who once spent their days reviewing audition tapes from would-be musical theatre writers, those home-spun authors whose lack of talent is only outgunned by their delusional belief that what they have written will be the next big Broadway hit. After laboring in the dregs for so long, Brown and King were inspired to dream up the worst possible topic for a Broadway Musical, and hence, "Gutenberg-The Musical" was born.
And indeed, has there ever been a more momentous, yet boring invention than the printing press? After it was invented, essentially, there is nothing of Gutenberg's life left to tell. Germany in the 15th century was about as drab as it comes. Naturally, as historical musicals tend to do, things must be made up ...things which could have happened. This is part of a running commentary on the structure and techniques of the modern Broadway Musical which is pure pontifical satire. Very funny stuff.
The show is actually performed as a sales pitch by its two enthusiastic authors, Bud and Doug, (the brilliant Tim Newell and David Butler respectively.) The guys are hoping to strike a spark with a potential Broadway producer, an imaginary angel sitting out in the audience, an audience certain to be filled with George Abbott-type producers.
Doug and Bud quiver with excitement, they just know that they have written the next Great Big Musical for the Great White Way... and they've mapped out the whole road to follow: fame, fortune, the chance to escape their hum-drum jobs (well, maybe Doug won't leave his position as a caffeinista at Starbucks, the benefits being too good.)
Anyone who may have sat in on open auditions will easily recognize our protagonists. All the astounding self-confidence, all the hubris in the world cannot camouflage the utterly unaware lack of talent. Butler and Newell play it to the hilt.
The boys commence to tell the entire story with perfect pitch direction from Loraine O'Donnell (singer, actor, radio personality and director...what can't she do?) Ms. O'Donnell has managed to squeeze the last ounce of schtick out of this one, and still keep things sharp and smart. Our heroes sing and dance out the entire musical (with achingly funny choreography by Amy Travella). Fortunately, they have stage experience too, having previously performed for "wheelchair" groups --- ("They make great audiences!")
In order to perform all the roles in the musical, (male and female) these would be Andrew Lloyd Webbers wear baseball caps which identify each character with the name emblazoned atop ... and what a cast of characters! Stumbling drunks and evil monks, grape stompin' maids, little girls in braids and a slovenly butcher in the meat chopping trade.
You see how contagious this all becomes.
To be sure this is a one trick pony, and in less capable hands it might have quickly sunk into an evening of really bad theatre. But this pony skips, and sings and charms us all evening long, with a good dose of bad taste and never a dull moment. Singing rats? They got 'em. One wonders at the ability of the actors, who really do sing and dance up a manic storm, to keep all the lyrics, let alone the myriad characters, straight. It's mind boggling. By the end of the show there are so many baseball caps flying through the air one wonders how New Era failed to become the corporate sponsor.
I dare not give away too much, since the joy of this show lies in the constant barrage of incoming jokes. I guarantee you will laugh.
The audience really enjoyed this show, as well they should have. With droll musical accompaniment (and commentary) by Chuck Basil, please brush off the snow and go see this one, right away.
GUTENBERG: THE MUSICAL, at ALT Theatre through February 5, 2011.