BWW Review: [TITLE OF SHOW] at The Firehouse Theater
Television was forever changed in 1989 when "Seinfeld" aired leading to subsequent generations of fans obsessed with "a show about nothing." And just as "Seinfeld" altered the course of television, [TITLE OF SHOW] has forever changed the modern musical with a story of two best pals, their two actress friends and a trusty piano player writing a musical about writing their musical in three weeks to submit to the New York Theater Festival.
Adding to the "life imitating art" story line, the original [TITLE OF SHOW] was not only selected for the festival; it later garnered an Off-Broadway run (2006) and 102 regular performances on Broadway (2008). Along the way, the show-within-a-show's first cast, who played themselves in the autobiographical roles, documented the winding road to The Great White Way with a video blog series called the [TITLE OF SHOW] Show.
Lon Barrera directs The Firehouse Theatre's version of this one-act musical comedy with some needed script reference updates including plenty of shout outs to HAMILTON creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Barrera also keeps the banter family-friendly, scrubbing most of the four-letter words or blue content, but maintaining the overall jokes and tone. Before an actor has even stepped foot on the stage, Kevin Brown's set design lays out the feel for this musical obsessed show with floor and walls covered in musical playbills and posters. It's a solid clue to what's in store for the musical theater novice and a visual treasure hunt of "I Spy" for the show tune obsessed.
During the shows opening, aptly named "Untitled Opening Number," we're introduced to TITLE's leading men who don't just croon about their friendship, but demonstrate their "Bosom Buddy" inspired bestie ways through elaborate secret handshakes punctuated with rhythmically timed chest bumps and high fives. Dressed in a bright red Wonder Woman shirt and jeans is Jeff (Cody Dry) a tall, thin, bookish character hoping to create the show's music and lyrics. He's countered in shape and size by Hunter (Joshua Sherman) an over-the-top personality with a big voice, mismatched shoelaces and a pun-filled sense of humor that are a fit for his role in creating the show's book. The two play off of each other well with fast-paced banter and quick moments finishing each other's sentences, but Dry's voice sometimes gets overpowered by Sherman's (an issue that might be fixed with different microphones).
As the duo struggles to decide the subject of their musical, Sherman gets a scene-stealing round as a Dolemite-esque piece of blank paper for "An Original Musical," a number filled with industry jargon about the value and hype of jukebox musicals, revivals and original scripts. It's followed by "Monkeys and Playbills," a song that shows off Heidi (Noelle Mason) and Susan (Elisa Danielle James), the two actresses who round out the quirky company. Prop master Connie Hay's ingenuity also shines as she delivers Playbills for countless Broadway flops mentioned throughout the performance including CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS, GOT TU GO DISCO and BAGELS AND YOX.
With every action and line in TITLE theoretically being written into the finished score and book, it gives the four actors and their piano player/pseudo cast mate (Andrew Friedrich) a chance to deliver some cheeky, pointed nods and one-liners to the audience. Dry showcases his talents playing live piano while Mason demonstrates her pipes performing "I Am Playing Me." It's a thoughtful song about not just being in a character in a show, but creating the mold for others to follow. And before the mood becomes anything less than silly, Mason and James bring on the laughs with "What Kind Of Girl Is She?," a witty, verbal manifestation of the jealousy that lurks in all of us. Moving from jealousy to self-doubt, James performs "Die Vampire, Die!" This analogy about the "vampires" of self-censorship and insecurity is certain to resonate with anyone who creates art for others to experience. Perhaps it's the missing curse words for punctuation, but the song was one of the only numbers in the show that never seemed to achieve the visceral punch of which it's capable.
The 90-minute production moves at a rat-a-tat pace, but it slows a bit for a three-part montage series explaining TITLE's move to Off-Broadway and beyond. Theses numbers partnered with a nostalgic ballad "A Way Back To Then" (complete with #TBT photos of the performers in their youth) seemed to slightly drain the performance's upbeat rhythm. It's a necessary technique for explaining the passage of time, but it needs some slight edits to match the overall cadence of the show.
Any missing energy is, however, quickly replaced with the second to closing number "Nine People's Favorite Thing," an anthem about staying true to one's self and your vision. As the lyrics state: "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing, than 100 people's ninth favorite thing." It's an eloquent end to an otherwise playful show leaving the audience with a lasting message about being true to yourself and the inspiration to take a risk, put it all out there and see what happens next.
[TITLE OF SHOW] continues at The Firehouse Theatre through May 1. Tickets can be purchased online at thefirehousetheatre.com.