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THEATER OF THE SELF-REFERENTIAL

  

picture - [title of show]Theater Review

by Oliver Conant

published August 15, 2008

 

[title of show]

now playing on Broadway

at the Lyceum Theater

 

So the bracketed, the lowercased, the eponymous, the snarky [title of show] has made it to Broadway at last. The show with “four chairs and a keyboard,” set in a single Hell’s Kitchen apartment that does double duty for the two residences of its creators and their late night brain storming, pity parties, buck up sessions,  take-out food, re-writes, and a telephone answering machine playing back the variously incredulous and or indignant refusal of a series of well known actresses to have anything to do with the project that will end up in those cozily ironic brackets.

 

Built to the generous dimensions of the Lyceum’s stage, the apartment rather looms over the proceedings. The three notably tall, carefully distressed white plaster walls, an inset window with a courtyard view, stand as mute testimony to the labor and talent of set designers tasked with designing so much Seinfeldian nothing. I confess there were moments when, my attention wandering, I caught myself scrutinizing a particularly successful passage of  cracked plaster, a subtle triumph of verismo, above an almost as convincingly scuffed baseboard. The radiators are good, too, spindly in that familiar pre-war way, covered with layers of white paint that’s always flaking…

 

But I digress. And I don’t mean to suggest that more amusement could be derived from watching the radiators’ flaking paint than taking in the vocal, intermittently charming, cheerful antics on display in this “musical about two guys making a musical.” It’s just that, at certain moments during [title of show]’s barrage of  songs in praise of how very quirky and wonderful and creative the creators of [title of show] are—of how, as they sing in “Nine People’s Favorite Things,” they’d rather be “nine people’s favorite thing / than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing,”—well, as I say, there were moments when my favorite things were those radiators.

 

The two guys are Jeff Bowen, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Hunter Bell, who wrote the book. They are joined by Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell, who portray two struggling actresses drawn into the quest to create, from scratch, an improvisatory musical comedy based on their own lives. As [title of show] opens they have decided to submit their project to the New York Musical Theater Festival, the first step on its voyage to Broadway. They are giddy with the possibilities: “we could put this exact conversation in our show,” one of them burbles. “You mean,” exclaims another, “if I say ‘Wonder Woman for President!’ it’ll be in the show? I love saying Wonder Woman for President!” Just why this not very arresting phrase inspires so much enthusiasm we’re never told. What matters is that, ha ha, it “got in.”

 

More of this kind of thing—and there is more, much more—adds up, according to The New York Times, to a “postmodern homage to the grand tradition of backstage musicals like Babes in Arms, Kiss Me, Kate, and A Chorus Line..”  [title of show] seems too earnest about itself to qualify as “postmodern,” whatever that might mean in this context (not much, I suspect). It’s all about Ambition, and the Artistic Process, and the Pitfalls of Compromising Your Vision After Initial Success. But mostly it’s unabashedly about success, and how it can come even to two self described “nobodies,” on the fringes of the theater world, dreaming of celebrityhood, watching too much trashy TV and internet porn, given to  “procrastubating,” which is just what it sounds like.

 

The credo, if that’s the word I want, of [title of show] seems to be “being who you want to be and having a kick ass time!” That line drew sustained applause from the matinee audience, whose standing ovation struck me as motivated by more than a little self approval: aren’t we wonderful to be acknowledging this wonderful originality.

 

oconant @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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