IF YOU GO
What: Self-referential musical about two guys writing a musical
When: 11:30 p.m. Friday, April 20
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — Hunter wants to write a musical. Hunter wants to win a Tony Award. The deadline for the New York Musical Theatre Festival sits three weeks away. Thus, "[title of show]," Florida Rep's delightful production of "a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical." What fun!
The show, directed by Jason Parrish, is Florida Rep's fourth annual Intern Showcase, which features the work of the performing and creative members interns who've been with the theater since last fall. Nearly everything on the stage and in the show - from actors to props to costumes to the sets - was masterminded by Florida Rep's crew of young professionals.
"[title of show]" was a mid 2000s Internet sensation. Two determined New Yorkers really did write a musical in three weeks - and then chronicled the show's journey to Broadway on YouTube. Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) craft a whimsical, self-referential show about creativity, Broadway and interpersonal relationships. And it really did earn a 2008 Tony Award nomination.
Self-referential to the nth-degree, "[title of show]" follows driven Hunter (a snarky Taylor Murphy Hale) and breezy Jeff (a wonderfully quippy Robert Mitchel Owenby) as they attempt to write the show. Gal pals Susan (Julianne Avolio) and Heidi (Hallie Wage) come along for the ride. The odd title comes from a blank spot on the festival entry form.
Music director Justin P. Cowan, the artistic director at the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater on Sanibel, joins in as the show's music director, on-stage keyboard player and sometimes comic relief Larry. Note that all the characters are real people.
Staged in Florida Rep's intimate studio theatre, Parrish keeps the 90-minute, no-intermission show humming. The tiny stage creates a pressure-cooker atmosphere that fits the show's "create or die" theme - and the confines resemble both a ramshackle off-off-Broadway theatre or the miniscule New York apartment where the piece was born.
The 90 minutes isn't especially deep. But creative, oh so creative. Despite the jokes, the show takes the art of self reference to new heights. There's three montages that disguise the fact that the creators needed to lengthen the show. There's also Heidi's song "I Am Playing Me" and an opener that comes with the genuinely thrilling title "Untitled Opening Number." You will laugh as hard as I did at the silliness.
What "[title of show]" does so well - both in its script and in this particular production - is name check celebrities (Sutton Foster, Patti Lupone) and chronicle the agony of creation. All this comes with a wink and a nod to the ever-present notepad - because if they're talking, it goes into the script. Do be warned - a good chunk of the snide humor isn't appropriate for a family newspaper.
Theater insiders (and anyone who's ever labored over an empty laptop screen) will love the absurd "Monkeys and Playbills" number. And yes, it is just as bizarre as it sounds.
As the boys struggle to write, the girls appear as spirits. For Hunter, he's suddenly moved to draw a monkey driving a speedboat. Jeff goes through his collection of Playbill magazines of Broadway flops - which project onto the back wall. Monkeys. Playbills. In song. Once the music stops, the girls suddenly ask "Are we in this scene now?" Or there's "Awkward Photo Shoot," where the entire group starts to hate each other - but they still smile for the camera!
Hale brings a manic energy to his overzealous writer Hunter. He gives the character just the right push of desperation, neediness and just a hint of "well, it's MY show" diva treatment. The ferocity with which Hunter wants a Broadway hit comes through, down to the demands for full-frontal nudity - which Hale gamely strips down to his pants and dances around the stage.
Owenby's more laid-back Jeff gives the show's snarky put-downs zip - including making fun of the fake "transitions" when Hunter simply slides a chair across the stage. "You can't just go from here to there without music!" Owenby has a huge smile and a wonderful singing voice.
While the show does belong to the boys (they did write it, after all), there's much fun for the ladies. Gifted comic actress Avolio nearly steals the show during scene where she repeatedly tries to sing over everyone else instead of providing soft backup.
Her "Die, Vampire, Die," a paean to vanquishing the doubt that comes with creating something original - proves the show's single best number. The quartet rocks out behind lyrics like "And when they come run like hell, see those bats in your belfry, then call on Van Helsing" and truly gives the show its heart.
Wage brings an effervescent spark as aspiring actress Heidi. Look for her rocker anthem during the "Secondary Character" montage - the only moment the two girls are left alone on the stage during the entire show. She grabs a broom and thrashes licks that would do any rocker proud.
"[title of show]" brings the funny in a big way during its too-brief time on stage. If you've ever struggled to write a term paper or fought with team members on a project - you can identify. Better, this one comes with music! And curse words! And dancing! Don't miss Julianne Avolio's quirky, scene-stealing turn as Susan or Robert Owenby's sarcastic Jeff.
[title of review]. The fabulous hit musical no one reads. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.