It's not often that a theatrical production makes me laugh until I cry during the opening number and continue sniffling with laugh-tears for almost 90 solid minutes. But that was my experience at opening night of "[title of show]" at Three Rivers Music Theatre, running through October 7.

The self-referential 2006 musical comedy brings new meaning to the word "meta." Originally written by Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen as a musical theatre festival piece, [title of show] is about two writers named Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen who write a musical theatre festival piece called [title of show] about two writers named.... Yeah, you get the picture.

Director Andy Planck knows how to cast and direct a show. The TRMT production stars Brock Graham as Hunter, the mostly-easy-going librettist, and Caleb Novell as Jeff, the grammar-nazi composer. The opening number, titled "Untitled Opening Number," sets up the humor and style that will continue throughout the show. Their onstage rapport is completely natural and they get some of the show's biggest laughs with unscripted gestures or facial expressions.

Hunter and Jeff enlist their friends, Heidi Blickenstaff (played by Jensen Davis) and Susan Blackwell (Chrissy Weadick). Both women are hilarious additions to the cast, adding their own unique personalities and humor to the script. Heidi is a little more polished, the only member of the cast who actually appeared on Broadway (as an understudy and in the ensemble). Her late-show solo, "A Way Back to Then," is a knock-out. Susan has all but given up on performing and works full time in an office. She questions her own talent and singing ability, but covers up her insecurities with sassy snark. Like the guys, both Davis and Weadick play their roles to perfection.

The show takes a slightly serious turn toward the end when the show finds success Off-Broadway but they go back to their day jobs after it closes. Hunter becomes obsessed with getting this tiny show to Broadway and the four of them-plus their music director, Larry (played by Brandon Porter, who brilliantly music directed the show), find themselves sniping at each other. But it doesn't last long, and soon they're back to being friends and performing together on Broadway, thanks to a 2008 YouTube show called "the [title of show] show." The writers drummed up enough interest among Broadway stars who'd been fans of their Off-Broadway production that they actually manifested their dream into reality.

That's not a spoiler. [title of show] did run on Broadway in 2008. You can watch "the [title of show] show" on YouTube. Episode 6 features a cameo by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was starring on Broadway in "In the Heights."

Because this show is a regional premiere, audiences may not understand what it's all about and avoid going to see it. This would be a tragedy. [title of show] deserves sell-out houses for its entire 3-weekend run. Word of mouth is already spreading on social media. Get your tickets now before it's too late. And bring tissues, because you will laugh until you cry.

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From This Author Jen Poiry


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