The Broadway musical is most oft deemed to be synonymous with “surface spectacle”, and to defy such a commercial standard would presumptively lead to one’s shunning from the ferociously competitive marketplace, but it appears the Great White Way may have some heart for the small in scale, sharp in wit, and generous in spirit after all.
Four chairs and a keyboard is all the set you’ll see on stage in the minimalistic, non-committaly christened [Title of Show], the charming Tony-nominated comedy that chronicles its own creation history from first playing at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004 to opening on Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in 2008.
It’s seemingly the quintessential tale of the American dream – and yet it strikes a chord with modern Montreal audiences by giving a twist on the conventional rags-to-riches story of the struggling artist pounding the pavement to make a name and a living.
“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”, the self-referential and autobiographical work by composer-lyricist Jeff Bowen and book writer Hunter Bell takes us back to their humble beginnings as “Two Nobodies in New York”. With just three weeks to pull together original songs and script into a spankin’ new show and with no inspired ideas in flow, they team up with actress friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff and reach for the material nearest at hand: their dreams, their insecurities, their challenges – themselves.
The result: a whimsical meta piece on the behind-the-scenes process of theatremaking that also delivers a powerful message on artistic integrity.
And, with all of its cheeky winking nods to the most treasured of hits (“Rent”, “Into the Woods”, and “Wicked” are among the honourees) and obscure flops (“Bring Back Birdie”, anyone?) of the Broadway canon alike, it’s a wonderfully riddling love letter to the musical theatre aficionado.
Director Steven Greenwood has triumphantly assembled and harnessed the talents of Cathal Rynne (Hunter), Eric Lee (Jeff), Maya Lewis (Heidi) and Mary Looney (Susan) – a wholly winsome ensemble in their combined musical skill, comedic chops, and convincing chemistry (and may it be duly added that musical director Zach Ripka as Larry, the Pianist is also a delightful presence on stage.) [Title of Show] is about showbiz fantasies and stagestruck hopefuls, yes, but where it most endears is in keeping it real (well – as real as bursting into perfect harmony and choreography can get…) as performances from the local cast are captivating in warmth and wit. Accessible, unaffected, and genuine, we become invested in the fate of these nonfictional characters and compelled to root for their successes – whatever one’s definition of “success” may be.
Granted, the writing has its shortcomings: there are inside jokes that are played out and the energy dips two thirds of the way in as the narrative begins to feel disjointed and dragged. The quick spattering of the aforementioned musical references is also bound to leave casual theatregoers in the dust. [Title of Show] has its definitive niche – but, graciously, it most knowingly and unapologetically embraces it whilst still attempting to welcome a broader scope of audiences with wide open arms.
Home Theatre Productions is out to, per its own mandate, “make the theatre feel like home”, and it does just that with its effortlessly charismatic inaugural production. Playful and personable, the spirit of friendship and community permeates the intimate space (the MiniMain fits the pocket-sized piece like a tailored glove). True to itself and refreshingly unassuming, [Title of Show] is hard not to like.
Here’s to hoping this scrappy and spunky little show is finding its “nine people” night after night.
Home Theatre Productions presents [Title of Show]
Performances: September 12-15, 2019
Venue: MainLine Theatre MiniMain (3997 Boul. St-Laurent)
Box Office: www.mainlinetheatre.ca