Michael Detmer, Sydney Magers, Justin White, & Lauren McCombs in [title of show]. Photo: Acting Against Cancer.
[title of show]
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Henry Bell
Directed by Remy Sisk
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
[title of show] is such a clever musical; smart and fast-paced, with a score that is inventive and funny. With only four actors and four chairs, it is also small in scale, easily establishing a cozy relationship with the audience.
Jeff Bowen and Henry Bell have written a musical about writing a musical, more specifically, about writing this musical in three weeks in order to meet the submission deadline for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. In the plot, Hunter (Michael Detmer) and Jeff (Justin White) start the process by writing down every word that they say, so that the piece is so self-consciously meta and existential it threatens to swallow itself. But two friends, Susan (Lauren McCombs), and Heidi (Sydney Magers), are recruited to help out, and the songs and dialogue are so witty that it remains consistently fresh and entertaining.
The meta-theatrical aspect of the narrative is constantly reinforced with scenes such as the one in which Susan and Heidi sing about being “Secondary Characters”, or Heidi sings “I Am Playing Me”. The text also knowingly cites itself for being almost too clever and needing to become something a little “meatier”. It finds that meat in an exploration of the challenges of the creative process and writer’s block, “Die, Vampire Die!”, that is very funny but also very grounded in reality. Art isn’t easy.
Eventually, the show is accepted and the inevitable ambition to go to Broadway seems in reach, but only if revisions are made: “Change It, Don’t Change It”. The inevitable strain on the friendships that brought the unlikely project to fruition is also present in “Awkward Photo Shoot”.
The players are well cast, with Michael Detmer and Justin White capturing both the bond and the contrasts in Hunter and Jeff, expressing the mix of personalities that might make for resourceful creativity. Sydney Magers and Lauren McCombs have a similar dynamic as equally charismatic but conflicting characters. All four sing and move with skill and energy, and seem to be having a good time, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Ms. McCombs, as always, is an especially compelling comedic and musical performer.
I think anyone would enjoy [title of show], but it plays best to musical theatre nerds, particularly to performers, a notion the text explicitly acknowledges when it describes itself as a “tiny, insider, downtown shows”. It may be the only limitation, and it expects producing companies to reference their own identity, and director Remy Sisk is only too happy to oblige, having a character pull out posters from past Acting Against Cancer productions when the show makes fun of the trend for musicals based on movies (Heathers, Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer).
The marvelous Gayle King is the Music Director, providing musical accompaniment on keyboards (the score doesn’t demand much more) and enough interaction to constitute a fifth character, and the set design, by Sisk and Corie Caudill is minimal but charming, adroitly lit by Jesse Alford.
[title of show]
Friday, March 23 @ 8pm
Saturday, March 24 @ 8pm
Sunday, March 25 @ 2pm
Thursday, March 29 @ 8pm
Friday, March 30 @ 8pm
Saturday, March 31 @ 8pm
$20 in advance and $22 at the door and are available ataacTITLE.brownpapertickets
Acting Against Cancer at ArtSpace
323 W. Broadway, Third Floor.
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.