Review: [title of show] at Fells Point Corner Theatre

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When it comes to musical theatre, there are two types of people: those who hate it and those who are obsessed with it. There is no in-between. And those obsessives, those for whom musicals are like sustenance, as necessary as air or water, are the subject of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s clever and touching, [title of show].

[title of show] at Fells Point Corner Theatre. Photo by Tessa Sollway.

[title of show] is a meta-theatrical meditation on the creation of art, and the successes, failures, doubt, and elation that accompany it. It is a musical about two men writing a musical about two men writing a musical. Got that? And although the often-obscure references to the American musical theatre canon (the 17 performance flop Got Tu Go Disco, for example) and its stars (Mary Stout, anyone?), fly fast and furious, [title of show] is about more than musicals and their rabid fans. It’s about being young and passionate, making a living doing what you love, not losing sight of your dreams and being a part of something larger than yourself, beautifully articulated in the ballad, “A Way Back to Then.”

The plot of [title of show], traces the real-life journey of Jeff (an energetic and appropriately goofy Owen O’Leary, a high school senior) and Hunter (Izaak Michael, in a performance that is both daft and manic), and their friends, Heidi (a bouncy Lauren Stuart) and Susan (Casey Dutt, in a performance that is a master class in comic timing), from their idea to write a musical to its creation. We follow them as the show premieres in the New York Musical Festival, and then moves to the prestigious off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre. Along the way, they struggle with soul-sucking day jobs, dead-end parts in the chorus or as an understudy, and a general inability to make ends meet. But these issues are tackled with great humor and become fodder for the show they are writing.

Director Kristen Cooley clearly has affection for this material and her work is often sharp and smart. She makes effective, sparing use of a nifty turntable (the brick and wood set adorned with theatre posters, or window cards as we call them, and that must suggest numerous locales is by Bush Greenbeck) and has coaxed fine performances from the quartet of actors with tricky material that could be a mess in less capable hands. That being said, there are some clunky moments (how many times can the actors stand on opposite ends of the stage, walk to the middle and sing while staring inches away from each other’s faces?) and there was a tentativeness in the performances of the two men, that will certainly smooth out as the run continues.

Special mention must be made of music director Mandee Ferrier Roberts. As the onstage pianist, she gets a few moments that are just comic perfection.

Every day, hopefuls comes to New York City, seeking a life on the stage. And they persist, relentlessly, through every call back, every staged reading, every backer’s audition and in spite of constant criticism and rejection. [title of show] tells the story of those people. It is about them, but it is also for them. It illustrates that their struggles are not for naught. It is a true story, from four of their own: personal, heartfelt and inspiring. It is about the complexity of failure and success and the idea that achieving your dreams is worth more than all the original cast recordings money can buy.

Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.

[title of show] plays through May 28, 2017, at Fells Point Corner Theatre – 251 S. Ann Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, go to the box office, or purchase them online.

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