Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review: [title of show]


Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Insert: [If You Stage it, They Will Come]
Boisterous laughter greets the jokes, or anything resembling a joke, in the opening minutes of [title of show], the phenomenon about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, and it appears that this might be a show only for those already fans of the off-Broadway production. But sharp wit, entertaining tunes and engaging characters win over the skeptic and prove that this “stage of dreams” has what it takes to compete in the Broadway big league.

In real life, as well as on the stage, the show starts as an entry in the 2004 New York Musical Festival. Faced with a three-week deadline and few ideas, Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) decide to write a musical about writing the musical. They interest friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff in the project and the show, which features the four performers playing themselves, is a virtual recording of their conversations during its creation. The set (Neil Patel) is bare except for four chairs, spike tape and a keyboard on which all of the songs are accompanied by sole musician Larry Pressgrove (musical direction/arrangements).

We get to know the foursome (they’re fun to hang out with) as they share their adventure and innermost thoughts. Jeff, hopes to get the words “Wonder Woman for President” included in the musical; Hunter wants to strangle the wordsmith who’s always correcting his grammar; Heidi wonders whether “downtown” Susan really likes her and whether she'll ever be more than an understudy on Broadway; Susan, who has been told that her voice isn't good enough for the Great White Way, worries about being in the show.

"Don’t worry," Hunter tells her. "We’ll replace you when we get to Broadway."

A warm rush of laughter comes from the audience which realizes she's standing on the stage of the Lyceum Theater. The scenes are linked by humorous phone messages detailing rejections from noted Broadway actresses asked to star in their musical and angst turned into musical numbers with deft direction and choreography by Michael Berresse.

Following the festival, the show enjoyed a cult following off-Broadway. Bowen, Bell and Berresse each won 2006 Obie Awards for their work. The run ended, but Bell wouldn’t give up on Broadway and gave the show new life in an internet video series. The wildly popular “The [title of show] Show” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrqFDczlobQ chronicled the musical’s “if you stage it, they will come” dream and springboarded the production to Broadway.

The joke about writing a musical about writing a musical can only go so far, however, so some of the 90-minute, no intermission presentation seems a little forced, like an unnecessary kiss shared by the two women, and a self-aggrandizing number to show off Heidi’s voice that seem to stop the flow of an otherwise entertaining romp.

Overall, [title of show] is a fun look at the inside world of creating musicals and a pat on the back to the indomitable spirit which pursues a dream despite the odds.

Christians might also like to know:
* The dialogue is peppered throughout with language and sexual references. Interestingly, however, the creators discuss whether or not to include it and decide to keep the dialogue real to avoid ending up with “two tight paragraphs about cuddly kittens.”
* The two male characters are gay, but not involved with each other.
* One actress removes her shirt to reveal her bra.


2 comments:

Rebel said...

Lauren captured the essence of the show with wonderful simplicity. Would trust her judgment when buying those expensive Broadway tickets.
What should I see next Lauren?

Cliff Thompson said...

I saw the show when it ran Off-Broadway. I had a good time in the way you enjoy yourself at a party hosted by a distant friend. Many laughs shared by the inner circle. Sure, I got most of the New York insider stuff, except the "tranni stole my shrimp" bit which had to be explained :). Too often, I didn't connect with this Gen-Y attempt to be hip w/o being relevant. The show seemed clever, well-meaning, but disposable. It's getting a Broadway run, which tells me that lots of people disagee with me.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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