Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gutenberg! The Musical

‘GUTENBERG!’, a slapstick musical spoof at Dobama

This is the time of year when theatres go in three directions: serious scripts with moral messages (think ‘A CHIRSTMAS CAROL’ at Great Lakes Theatre Festival and ‘GODS TROMBONES’ at Karamu); family warm and fuzzy (‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ at Cleveland Play House and ‘A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS’ at Magical Theatre), or just plain out and out goofy (‘THE SANTALAND DIARIES’ and ‘BROWNS RULES’ both at Cleveland Public Theatre).

Dobama, now settled in its new home on Lee Road, has chosen to go goofy with ‘GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL.’ The script by Scott Brown and Anthony King, was the winner of the 2006 New York Theatre Festival Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre Writing.

It is billed as a two-man musical spoof about a pair of aspiring playwrights auditioning their new project, a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg. Quickly we discover that their dreams are ill-advised and those in attendance aren’t really “producers” but theatre attendees.

Using a multiple number of blue baseball caps adorned with the name of the character being portrayed, such as Gutenberg, The Anti-Semite, Beef Fat Trimmer, Helvetica, Monk, Young Monk, Rats, and Feces, the duo play all 30 or so parts.

The music from the show is basically unmemorable, and consists of such ditties as “I Can’t Read,” “The Press Song,” “What’s the Word?” and “Tomorrow is Tonight.” There is a charming ballad entitled “Biscuits,” and “Words, Words, Words” is a show highlight. The sound is rock, rap, ballad and show tunes.

Critical reviews of the NY festival and the off-Broadway production called the production, “A gleefully goofy affair that is loaded with laughs” and “Riotously funny.”

The Dobama production, under the direction of Marc Moritz and musical director Brad Wyner, who also plays the piano to accompany the goings on, is fun, but not of the level of praise applied to it in New York.

Dane Castle, who is a BFA Music Theatre major at Kent State, and Chris Richards, a recent graduate of KSU, are full of youthful enthusiasm. They put out total effort, to the effect that the audience is as exhausted as they are by the end of the show. Their comic timing is basically good. Their singing voices are acceptable for the musical requirements of the score. They are, however, pretty hard to accept as being the authors and that may be why what locals see is not what was experienced in New York. Would the whole thing work with veteran actors who know how to milk an audience? As is, too much of what goes on is just too “staged” for it to be spontaneous. Maybe as the show runs, the boys will learn to make the goings on look and feel more adlibbed, which is needed to pull in the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Don’t go to Dobama expecting to learn about how Gutenberg invented the printing press, or gain any mind bending message. ‘GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL’ is a slight piece of ridiculousness that is good for some laughs, if you are in the right mood and just let your sensibilities flow away and appreciate the efforts of the two enthusiastic young performers.