Gutenberg! The Musical!
UPDATE: Thanks to Bud Davenport for offering a link to the play's trailer here.
Bud Davenport and Doug Simon want to be on Broadway more than you can imagine. We're not 100% sure that they necessarily have the talent and we know they don't have the cash, but we do know that they have the drive, the heart and soul, and maybe that's what they and the musical world really needs.
In Gutenberg! The Musical!, written by Anthony King & Scott Brown and directed by Les Freres Corbusier founder and artistic director Alex Timbers, Bud and Doug do what they can to bring their Little Musical That Could to Broadway.
Gutenberg! The Musical! was first developed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, then played at the NY Musical Theatre Festival and enjoyed a six-week run at 59E59 Theaters, has now transferred to off-Broadway. This attention and success is very deserved and founded. You should check it out to see what I mean.
A musical-within-a-play, Gutenberg! The Musical! is about two aspiring musical writers, Bud Davenport (played by David Turner) and Doug Simon (Jeremy Shamos), presenting the audience a backers' audition of a musical they wrote about Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, in the hopes that there are Big-Timey Producers in the house to make their dreams of going to Broadway come true. Since Bud and Doug have no money to put on the show (or to hire a cast), they play all the roles themselves, using labeled baseball caps (with labels such as "Drunk #1" & "Drunk #2," "Monk," "Anti-Semitic Flower Girl" and "Old Black Narrator") to indicate which roles they're playing (for large chorus lines or ensemble numbers, they tie a number of hats together with string and attach them to sticks).
The story itself about Gutenberg and his printing press...well, it doesn't really matter. (You're not really coming to this expecting to get a history lesson of the origin of the printing press, are you?) The play isn't exactly about the printing press and the evil monk who wants it destroyed to keep the masses illiterate and Helvetica (the heroine, named after the font) who loves Gutenberg: it's about Bud and Doug trying to present their little opus to us.
It's very, very funny.
There were a number of lines throughout the show that I was laughing so hard I became self-conscious. (One scene in particular was when, to stall for time, Doug describes to the audience a scene they didn't write about how the evil monk tortures the heroine Helvetica and gets slightly caught up in the sexual overtones of such a hypothetical scene.)
To be honest, it took the start of the second act for the play to fully win me over. I was initially a bit dubious about the metafictional play-within-a-play conceit because, well, it's been done so many times before. This isn't the fault of the play or the production; I've seen enough episodes of Mr. Show and South Park to have a bit of a cynical "been there, done that" attitude when it comes to ironic self-conscious musical pieces. That doesn't mean I wasn't finding it funny or entertaining in the first act (I was), I just had a tough time dropping my innate skepticism.
That being said, Mr. Turner and Mr. Shamos played the roles so well and with such sharp comic timing (they deliver blatantly offensive lines with such naïveté and obliviousness you can't help but laugh) that my fears of this being a navel-gazing "aren't-we-too-cute-for-words" show subsided by the time the second act began. They won me over.
The play simultaneously lampoons and picks apart the various clichés and conventions of the musical theatre genre and honors and adheres to them (not unlike the way, say, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut did), playing the rock song for the "Act One Rock Finale," the forlorn love song for the heroine, the "charm" song (preferably to be played by someone who used to be famous, like John Candy). Bud and Doug also make a point to refer to the Holocaust (because, y'know, every great Broadway musical has to refer to Some Important Issue to give it some gravitas).
Watching this play, I noticed something interesting happen. I genuinely felt for these dorky wannabes and wanted them to get that Broadway contract they were vying for. Despite how "by-the-numbers" their musical was and despite a lot of the ironic comedy permeated throughout Gutenberg! The Musical!, there's such a sweet, un-ironic humanity to Bud and Doug that made me excited for them to get their very silly play off the ground. I left the theatre smiling.
Gutenberg! The Musical! is playing at the Actors' Playhouse on 100 Seventh Avenue South just below Christopher Street. For tickets go here.
James "Evil Monk" Comtois