Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Peter Amster
Music Direction by Doug Peck
At Northlight Theatre, Skokie
Pretentious backstage musical about the writing of a musical falls flat
[title of show] is a one-act musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell. The show chronicles its own creation as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004, and follows the struggles of the author and composer/lyricist and their two actress friends during the initial three-week creative period. The show also covers subsequent events leading up to the show’s production.
Jeff and Hunter are two struggling who writers decide to write about their problem trying to find something to write about. They also add the foibles of their two theatre oriented female friends. The show features the tone of how folks actually talk -hence – the use of several f-bombs. This much too self-aware show uses ‘talk-songs’ – think William Finn as his Falsettos. Those atonal talk-songs are trying to emphasize the mundane with familiar vernacular speech. If you want audiences to care about you, your characters, your concept, and your show, give them witty lyrics and clever songs with nice melodies. Include ballads, a love song or two and a couple of show-stoppers. But do more than dialogue songs.
This style leads to sing-song sound-alike tunes that are not only forgettable but irritating after the first two or three. With song names such as “Two Nobodies in New York,” “Monkeys and Playbills” and “Die Vampire, Die,” you can imagine how bland this show becomes. While this tedious and too long one-act (by 20 minutes) tries to be a love letter to the musical theatre, it emerges as an example of how two untalented writers actually got their moments of glory but getting their foul-mouthed, self-aggrandizing show produced. [title of show] ran on Broadway in 2009 for only 115 performances.
This razor-thin premise wares out after we experience the actual show-within-a-show leading to several false endings that only further frustrates audiences. After about 50 minutes, with each Montage song , audience members left they show and once they show ended, a short mild applause greeted the production. The cast, McKinley Carter, Matthew Crowle, Stephen Schellhardt and Christine Sherill tried too hard to impress. Crowle, in particular, came off as obnoxious while Sherrill screamed her anthems. In fairness, the cast had such light-weight material to work with that they had to force things. Doug Peck, as music director and accompanying pianist, also had little to work with. I’m amazed that Northlight Theatre picked such a weak and tuneless musical, they usually select terrific shows.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
For more info checkout the [title of show] page at theatreeinchicago.com
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets $25 – $65, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, matinees on Wednesdays at 1 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm, running time is 100 minutes without an intermission, through June 10, 2012