BWW Review: TITLE OF SHOW A Charming Winner
TITLE OF SHOW is a one-act musical, with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell. The show is pretty much the Urban Dictionary definition of "meta". It not only chronicles its own creation as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, it also chronicles the struggles of the author and composer/lyricist as they create a musical about creating a musical. It's sort of like those endlessly reflective fun house mirrors. TITLE OF SHOW was chosen for production by the Musical Theatre Festival and premiered there, in September 2004. It later transferred to Off-Broadway in 2006, picking up three Obie Awards, and finally made it to Broadway later that same year, where it was nominated for Best Book of a Musical. In this production by Austin Theatre Project, the show has been reconfigured as two acts with no noticeable difference for the audience.
The show opens with Jeff (Andrew Cannata) and Hunter (Craig McKerley) talking about entering the upcoming New York Musical Theatre Festival. The deadline is three weeks away, but they decide to go for it to try to make a mark in the theatre world. They recruit their friends Susan (Emily Smith) and Heidi (Jennifer Coy Jennings) to help them with the project. The boys will write and everyone will perform and if their show is a hit, they can take it to Broadway and even replace the four ugly chairs on their set with chairs covered in diamonds!
While already dated (mostly in terms of referenced technology), this charmer of a show still resonates with contemporary audiences. In essence, this is nothing more than a contemporary take on the MGM Judy Garland / Mickey Rooney backstage musicals where the plucky kids put on a show. It's just two pairs of them now, or maybe two sidekicks and one pair. It doesn't really matter, the whole thing is a load of fun, beautifully sung and performed with a bushel full of spunk and charisma.
The four performers here are all excellent with some lovely voices making beautiful harmonies together. Andrew Cannata is utterly charming as Jeff with a great voice and makes the character frankly adorablE. Craig McKerley brings a convincing theatre geek persona to Hunter. Jennifer Coy Jennings has a great snarky delivery and brings a tenderness to the show's big Act Two ballad. Emily Smith has great comedic timing and a wonderfully expressive face. In all, these four performances exude charm, and will make you want to actually know these characters.
Audrey Barrett does double duty here as director and as Mary, the piano player. The sole source of music for this production is the piano and she handles it as expertly as her direction of the show, which is taut and sharp. Chris Ehresman's choreography is endlessly clever and snappily executed. James Jennings does a marvelous job lighting the show, serving as sole source of mood, place and time. His work here offers great enhancing effect on the end product. David Blackburn gets a great big harmonious sound out of this winsome foursome.
Austin Theatre Project has made a name for themselves in a few short years because they do great work with small cast, minimalistic set, pocket musicals. Last season, just as they were attempting to grow, they were one of the companies who were worst hit by the sudden and unexpected shuttering of Ground Floor Theatre; a fact neither they, nor the venue manager, had any control over. That sudden closure, which resulted in the cancellation of FronteraFest Long Fringe, left them, along with several other companies, frantically scrambling for new venues. One show announced for last season was dropped and remains unproduced. Another show got shuffled forward, unfortunately to the detriment of that production. With this new season they have announced, which opens with this production, it appears the company has returned to what they have a reputation for doing better than anyone else in town. If TITLE OF SHOW is any indication, they are firmly back on track.
TITLE OF SHOW is a winner: a funny modern spin on the backstage musical, stylishly executed with great charm by four charismatic performers. This love letter to those who make the modern musical what it is deserves a look as well as a listen.
Running time: 2 hours including intermission
Advisory: Adult Language
TITLE OF SHOW, produced by Austin Theatre Project, at Trinity Street Black Box Theatre ( 901 Trinity St, Austin, TX 78701).
Playing through Feb. 18th, 2017
Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 5:30 PM.
Wednesday 'industry night' performance on February 15, 2017
For tickets and information, visit: www.austintheatreproject.org.