WOW! StageSceneLA Review of [title of show]
April 5, 2019
Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen’s [title of show] provides a couldn’t-be-better talent showcase for four charismatic young triple-threats and a supremely imaginative young director, today only on Hollywood’s Theatre Row.
Jordan Becker and Blake Kevin Dwyer star as real-life co-writers Hunter and Jeff, who in the spring of 2004 sat down to create a new musical in just three weeks, that being precisely the period of time remaining before the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s submission deadline.
Joined by friends (and fellow performers) Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell (Glennellen Anderson and Joy Mamey on the Broadwater’s Second Stage), the quartet met the deadline with the most meta of musicals, recounting how [title of show] came to life, from its first spark of inspiration to its Opening Night.
Since then, [title of show] has played off-Broadway, where Bell and Bowen both won the Obie Award, transferred to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, with Bell’s book scoring a Tony nomination, and become a regional theater favorite.
Many of [title of show]’s best and biggest laughs come from its awareness that it is a musical about writing the very same musical the audience is seeing unfold before its eyes, as when Hunter remarks, “Right now I think we need to get out of this scene because it feels too long,” and guess what? Blackout.
Musical highlights include Becker’s jive-talking F-word-sprinkled performance as Blank Paper opposite Dwyer’s inspiration-resistant Jeff in the highly original “An Original Musical,” while Anderson and Mamey get their own center-stage moments in “I Am Playing Me” and “Secondary Characters” (the titles are self-explanatory).
Since the only production design required consists of four chairs, a keyboard for accompanist “Larry” or “Mary” to tickle the ivories, and a handful of props, the bare black-walled Broadwater is all that’s needed for [title of show] to hit the entertainment bulls-eye again and again.
Add to that a director with vision and a cast capable of executing that vision while adding ingenious touches of their own and Up Next Productions’ L.A. debut proves a winner from start to finish.
There’s hardly a moment of director Clint Foley and company’s work that isn’t inspired, kudos shared by choreographer Savannah Marco’s deliciously clever dance steps and some crackerjack keyboard backup by Lena Tufenkjian’s Mary, who gets her own few dry words to say once Hunter and Jeff have gotten things worked out “with the union.”
It’s hard to imagine a more charismatic, talented foursome than the new-to-the-L.A.-musical-theater-scene Dwyer, Becker, Anderson, and Mamey, who not only create four distinctly quirky charmers but prove equally gifted vocalists under Jenna Byrd’s assured musical direction.
Angelically blond with a devilish twinkle in the eye, Becker nails Hunter, a young man with dreams of Broadway and a Tony, whose tastes run toward trashy reality TV and ‘80s Broadway blockbusters.
Dwyer is equally memorable as tall, dark, and handsome worrywart Jeff, who prefers forgotten musicals to megahits and sees life through a far more realistic lens than his show-writing partner.
Anderson’s redheaded powerhouse Heidi (in real life a Broadway show vet) shows off her own comedic chops before singing the bejesus out of the show’s big power ballad “A Way Back To Then.”
Mamey is a deliciously dry delight as the perpetually self-deprecating Susan, whose jokes and occasionally inappropriate remarks can’t mask a talent equal to her costars’.
Some nifty lighting choices add to the production’s pizzazz, costumes (one for each character) are just right, Jenna Byrd adds some fun sound design touches, and the Broadwater’s intimacy provides pitch-perfect acoustics for unamped voices.
Last but not least, by projecting Playbill covers during “Monkeys And Playbills,” Foley not only eliminates the need for “hard copy” props but ups the cleverness of Bowen’s Broadway-show-title-packed lyrics. (“He drives by a ‘Steel Pier’ in ‘Portofino’ to be ‘The First’ to hear a ‘Band In Berlin.’”)
Indeed, the production’s sole misstep is in not having sought out 2004-style cell phones (used frequently throughout) for a show clearly set a decade before smartphones became the norm.
It may help to be a Broadway trivia expert to fully appreciate [title of show]’s many “in” moments, but even those who don’t know Steve and Eydie’s Golden Rainbow from McDonald’s Golden Arches will be in for the tastiest of musical comedy treats this afternoon at 2:00 and tonight at 8:00.