[title of show] is one of those theatre rarities: a clever chamber musical about the creative process used in creating plays or musicals -- or anything else, for that matter. Two gay men, best o’ friends, decided to write a musical for the upcoming New York Musical Theatre Festival. They enlist each of their best female friends to round out what they’re doing: writing down as dialogue every single thing that went into making their musical: the inane words; the pointed observations; their own insecurities, etc. Nothing profound on the surface, but telling volumes about how humans, especially artists, react negatively to childhood criticisms, illustrated in their song Die, Vampire, Die!:
“You have a movie to make, Shrinky Dinks you can bake, but you best grab a stake, ‘cause, in sweep the vampires, in creep the vampires, knee deep in vampires, filling you with doubt and insecurity ‘bout what your art should be. In sweep the vampires…”
By chronicling its development, and breaking the fourth wall, the audience becomes part of the process, drawn from self-awareness of how these things are often composed. It’s a lovely little show, with no set, minimal costumes, good use of lights, an original score that also references musicals which came before it. If you can, take physical notes of every musical mentioned, from “Into the Woods,” to “Ruthless,” “Barnum,” “Hot September,” “Shrek,” “Billy Elliott,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Chess,” “Mame,” “I Love my Wife,” “Got to Go Disco,” “The Golden Apple,” “Big Deal,” “Oh, Capitan,” “Smile,” “Merrily We Roll along,” “Wicked,” “A Chorus Line,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Aspects of Love,” On the Town,” and a gaggle of other Broadway and Off-Broadway titles I didn’t pick up on. It’s a show-fairy’s wet-dream.
Because so much emphasis is on the sexuality of the cast (the show could be titled “Two Fags and Their Fag Hags,” – which I do not suggest, as that would be rude), “gay” is prominently on display, apparently more-so than with the New York cast. “Hunter” and “Jeff” are the first names of the male characters, no accident as they are the first names of the co-creators, Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), who originated these roles. So far, so good. Then we add “Susan” and “Heidi,” the first names of the two women who also contributed to the original development/writing/ad-libbing. You have never seen this kind of show, nor will you again, and while it is a tad precious in its conceit, it is thoroughly professional in the finished fact of it.
This particular cast has strong voices and proper acting: Micah McCain is a Big Ol’ Girl Hunter. Tall and rather nelly, he ends up making us care about his character by dint of personality and charm. Jeffrey Landman is a more traditional, if neurotic, Jeff; Jennifer R. Blake is a strong Susan, the one with the huge insecurities about voice and dance-ability, and Carey Peters nicely does her Heidi, a character more comfortable with herself as an actress and singer. The small cast is rounded off by handsome Gregory Nabours, as Larry, the superb keyboardist who is allowed a few lines. He also is flirtatious with Heidi, balancing somewhat the “gayness” of the show.
Now, mind you, the characters’ sexuality is never a hindrance to the evening, as it is all done in fun and in fairness to everyone. The American Theatre has not been particularly homophobic, or racist, or even sexist, for some decades. And as the show is playful in the extreme, running a tad over 90 minutes, with no intermission, it is a genuine delight. Nabours’ musical direction and Michael A. Sheppard’s stage direction combine to keep us entertained, as well as enlightened. What better combination to see on any stage?
[title of show] plays Wednesdays through Sundays at the Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA, until September 5th, 2010. For tickets: 323.957.1884 or at their website: www.celebrationtheare.com.