Friday, January 21, 2011

[Title of Review]: [Title of Show] is pretty BLEEPing good

Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Brennan Villines (left) plays Jeff, an up-and-coming writer of muscials and Stephen Garrett plays Hunter, the songwriter, in the regional premiere of [title of show] at Theatre Memphis, January 14 -30, 2011.
  • Brennan Villines (left) plays Jeff, an up-and-coming writer of muscials and Stephen Garrett plays Hunter, the songwriter, in the regional premiere of [title of show] at Theatre Memphis, January 14 -30, 2011.
I’m with Mae West (or was it Alice Roosevelt Longworth?). If you’ve got nothing good to say, come sit by me. That’s probably why I’m crazy for [Title of Show] a smart little meta-musical happening on Theatre Memphis’s NextStage through January 30. Don’t let the program warnings fool you, it’s not the adult language in [Title of Show] that makes it objectionable to certain theater patrons. If anything the cussing and cock talk is a generous gift—a sacrificial scapegoat, if you will— from the play’s authors to anyone who might be offended by their savage, hilariously detailed descriptions of easily-offended theater patrons.

[Title of Show] fits NextStage like yin pours into yang. Theatre Memphis has a well deserved reputation for producing fantastic sequin-and-feather musicals on its main stage and now its smaller space is hosting this grubby, profanity-laden homage to everything that makes Broadway musicals stupid and therefore great. The script—a little too twee and loosely based on the real-life exploits of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell—traces the progress of a quartet of talented, funny, attractive people (and a keyboard player) writing a musical about four talented, funny, attractive people (and a keyboard player) writing a musical about a quartet of talented, funny attractive people (and a keyboard player) writing a musical. Or something like that. The convention gets tired but the cast never does in the latest, greatest musical in a season already crowded with good work.

The best thing about [Title of Show] is how effortless it seems. The actors wear their parts like pajamas, all warm and loose fitting. The quirky, DIY choreography has a childlike quality that calls to mind the bit of pop philosophy about the virtues of dancing like nobody’s watching. And it does that without making you want to urp. From the opening song to the closing bows director Cecelia Wingate and her big-throated, big-hearted cast—Stephen Garrett, Brennan Villines, Jaclyn Suffel and Amy Polumbo — turn a dark, empty theater with no set to speak of, into the most interesting, and inviting place in the world. The barbs hit their targets, the jokes work, the songs are mostly hummable, and as a special self-aware treat to all the straight men in the crowd who’ve probably been drug kicking and screaming to the theater by their wives, there’s a hot half-naked hottie in a hot pink bra that’s hot. What else could anybody ask for?

On the surface [Title of Show] seems all edgy and original but backstage comedies have always been popular, and at heart that’s all this is. It’s Micky and Judy reinvented for the McSweeney’s crowd, with some burlesque mixed in for color. It’s everything that’s fun about live theater blended with only a few of the things that make it hokey, preachy, and annoying.

You don’t have to be a Broadway buff to have a good time at [Title of Show]. Those who are can expect to have an enhanced experience.

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