Tuesday, July 15, 2008

[Title of Show], 2 Years Ago

The meta-musical [title of show] is about to open on Broadway, but I saw it Off-Broadway almost exactly 2 years ago (July 21, 2006) at the Vineyard Theater. It was a comp ticket, part of my reward for winning the Young Playwrights Contest. Who knew that this little musical would make it to Broadway and that people would still be talking about it 2 years later? In order to add to the conversation, here are some memories and some thoughts.

[title of show] was fairly enjoyable to watch but did not really stick with me. I remember the female performers more distinctly than the men. The women are obvious "types"--Heidi the warm, nurturing blonde, Susan the tart, angular brunette--and the musical played that up. Whereas I don't recall that Hunter and Jeff succeeded in creating clear comic personae--odd, 'cause they're the authors!

Young Playwrights promised us talk-backs with the writers and performers of some of the shows we saw, but we didn't have one for [title of show]--which would have been interesting, since it's all about the creative process. Indeed, my biggest question is whether non-writers, or non-theater-people, can relate to something that seems very insular. I mean, I like musical theater and know more about it than the average American does, but I'm far from being one of those people who collects obscure cast albums and can name every show that opened on Broadway in 1954. So, while I guess a song like "Monkeys and Playbills," which rhymes the names of flop musicals, is clever, I didn't find it particularly engaging.

And I don't want the theater to become insular. I don't want to live in a world where only people who know a lot about musicals can enjoy new musical comedies. Or where artists make art that only other artists can relate to. For me, [title of show] skirts dangerously close to solipsism. It's great that the four actors/writers take pride in their art form and their theater-geekery... but perhaps they love it not wisely but too well. And it's uplifting to see these people fulfill their dream of being artists...but isn't it a little depressing that the only thing they can think to write about is themselves? They pat themselves on the back for writing "An Original Musical," but most of the classics of the genre are are adapted from plays, books, or movies--perhaps with good reason.

For these reasons, I thought the best song in the show was Heidi's ballad "A Way Back to Then." Though it's ostensibly about Heidi's struggle to become an actress and recapture the joy she found in performing when she was a little girl, the lyrics are universal enough that I think any adult can relate to their nostalgic tone. It's where [title of show] makes its greatest emotional connection, going for simple truth as opposed to meta-cleverness.

And I have to admit that "Nine People's Favorite Thing" is pretty damn rousing and catchy, even if I have trouble with the sentiment that it espouses--which again seems to promote insularity and theater-geek fanaticism, instead of finding common ground. ("I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing / Than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing.")

Photo of [title of show] cast from playbill.com

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