Monday, April 27, 2009

[title of show]

‘[title of show],’ another BW-Playhouse Square collaboration

Last year, Baldwin Wallace College and Playhouse Square combined to give us ‘BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL.’ The show, which ran just three productions in the 14th Street Theatre was spectacular. It’s a shame that it wasn’t scheduled for a longer run, as it would have turned out to be a show with a strong cult following resulting in a long run.

This year, Victoria Bussert (BW) and Gina Vernacci (PHSquare) again conceived of giving college students an opportunity to showcase their talents in a professional theatre. This type of production also provides audiences with a chance to gain an appreciation of the performance skills of a group from one of the most respected musical theatre programs in the country.

‘[title of show’],’ which received a Drama League nomination for its off-Broadway production, centers on two struggling guys writing a musical which they want to get to Broadway, which centers on two struggling guys writing a musical they want to get to Broadway. No, that’s not a typo, it’s really what it’s all about…you watch the show which they’ve written as it is being performed as they write it. It’s quite a clever idea.

The production, which will probably be appreciated most by those who participate in or who love musical theatre, is not a great script, but it is entertaining. Some of the in-jokes and name references to pop divas will go right over the heads of the less theatre-savvy members of the audience. And, potential audiences must be warned, as a sign on the entrance door indicates, “This production contains mature language and flash bulbs.” Yes, the “f-bombs” go off on a regular basis.

The inventive book was conceived by Hunter Bell and the lyrics, which are often extremely clever, were written by Jeff Bowen. Bell and Bowen starred in the original production, and that probably added to the easily interactive banter. Those who attempt to portray them have no such personal attachment, which somewhat takes away from the immediate presence style of the script.

I attended one of the pre-14th Street productions of a show which was performed in the Bill Allman Theatre on the BW campus. That showing, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, was quite entertaining. It is difficult to ascertain how a “real” audience will respond, as the BW assemblage was peppered with theatre students who reacted as much to the persona of their friends on stage as to the characters they were portraying.

As is, J. R. Bruno, who plays the ADD, geeky, Bucky Beaver-looking Hunter is both believable and delightful. His huge dark eyes flashing, hair flopping over his sweat streaked forehead, Bruno is manically boyish and hyper-adorable. His comedic abilities outstrip his singing talents, but, it’s his delightfulness that counts the most, and he succeeds in fulfilling that requirement. In discussing if someone he is interested in is gay or straight, he convulsed the audience with a perfect presentation of the line, “Spaghetti is straight until it gets hot and sweaty.”

Dustin Jesberger portrayed Jeff the night I saw the show. This character is the more serious of the duo. Though Jesberger is not as successful as Bruno in developing a full character, he delivers his lines, many of which are written for him to be the “straight” man in the comedy act, with assurance. He has a pleasant singing voice.

Maggie Roach has the correct attitude and mannerisms, but doesn’t have the vocal chops to sing the “big belter” role.

Like Bruno, Emma Ruck, who portrays the ever wise-cracking Susan, has a natural talent for comedy. As with the rest of this cast, her vocal abilities seemed limited. This lack of vocal ability is surprising for Bussert’s students.

Ryan Garrett, who portrays Larry, the entire orchestra, thanks to his extraordinary talents as a keyboardist, plays well and renders his few lines with a fine shy flair.

Capsule judgement: ‘[cast of show]’ is a generally delightful production of a script that is adequately written and which has some good music. Don’t go expecting to be blown away like the audiences were with ‘BROOKLYN, THE MUSICAL,’ last year’s BW presentation at the 14th Street Theatre, but you will have a good time.