Theatre review: "[title of show]" at Celebration Theatre
Before “Glee,” there was “[title of show],” the little tuner that could. A musical comedy about two guys writing a musical comedy sounds like navel-gazing tosh, but this winning Broadway bagatelle by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, now at Celebration Theatre, captures the spirit of daring to hope you can actually get paid to do what you love.
New Yorkers Jeff (Jeffrey Landman) and Hunter (Micah McCain) are treading water (i.e. watching “Doc Hollywood” on cable) when they realize the deadline for New York Musical Theatre Festival is fast approaching. The boys decide to write an original musical in three weeks, enlisting semi-employed actresses Susan (Jennifer R. Blake) and Heidi (Carey Peters), as well as a keyboardist (Gregory Nabours).
Soon they’re folding events and asides from their lives into the score, and voila, their untitled show becomes an irreverent take on creating a musical--laced with tranny jokes and pop culture snark. The songs of “[title]” track the process and its vicissitudes: the terror of the blank page (“An Original Musical”), self-doubt (“Die Vampire, Die!”), and a giddy hymn to trusting your instincts (“Nine People’s Favorite Thing”). Not all of it lands, but the cozy Celebration production sells the 100-minute musical with gusto: This show is more refreshing than Universal’s Jurassic Park water plunge. (At the very least, the line is shorter.)
The problem with using every little happenstance of your life is that those details may not stand the test of time. And the quintet is more fun struggling than facing the perils of success; gravitas doesn’t suit them. But director Michael A. Shepperd keeps the comedy coming fast and sharp, while Ameenah Kaplan’s choreography doses with visual wit. Landman and McCain make a silly, snappy odd couple, and Blake tears into the (minimal) scenery with lunatic ferocity. Peters belts as beautifully as she underplays Heidi’s self-deprecation.
“[title]” is a product of the YouTube era—low-tech, sketch-style, self-referential, rife with insider chat. Its creators worried their show would be limited to a niche audience. True, this musical will only appeal to anyone who, in some area of their lives, is running down a dream. Small crowd.
“[title of show]” Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends September 5. $30. Contact: 323-957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com Running time: 100 minutes.
Photo: Top row, left to right: Jennifer R. Blake and Carey Peters; bottom row, left to right: Jeffrey Landman and Micah McCain. Credit: David Elzer.