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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Actors’ Playhouse, New York

By David Lefkowitz

  David Turner/Photo Joan Marcus

Though the novelty has definitely worn off for self-mocking musicals with intentionally giggle-worthy titles, and even moreso for tuners that incessantly remind us how clever at being "bad" they are, nevertheless, when the writing's witty and the performers personable, there's still fun to be had from this odd but audience-pleasing mini-genre.

The latest work to charm its way through the cracks is Gutenberg! The Musical!, a big draw at the 2006 New York Musical Theater Festival and popular enough in its current off-Broadway run to receive an extension through June 2.

The premise is simple: two theater geeks with delusions of aptitude decide, hey, let's put on a musical -- about Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type and the printing press. That relatively little is known about the 15th-Century German inventor, and that what is known about him wouldn't exactly inspire the next Guys and Dolls, doesn't stop Doug and Bud, two pals who have just enough talent to create a fanciful farrago about Gutenberg's life.

In their bare-bones backer's audition of the show, Doug and Bud (Darren Goldstein and David Turner) play all the roles, from the titular typist to such secondary characters as Beef Fat Trimmer, Drunks #1 and #2 and Old Black Narrator. So that we don't become confused, all the character names are printed on hats the guys interchange. This leads to the production's best gag, which fashions a chorus line out of a clothes line. (While I'm generally not one to purchase t-shirts, programs or other theater memorabilia, if the Gutenberg! producers ever decide to market the Feces hat, I'm buying!)

That Doug and Bud are so proud of their clueless creation is the show's main in-joke, one that, for the most part, creators Scott Brown and Anthony King sustain through the evening's hundred-minute running time. Gutenberg! is far from the only recent show to mock the conventions of musical theater (Forbidden Broadway, Spamalot, Curtains, title of show, etc.), and gimmicks like the duo setting every scene in a room "with a dirty thatch-covered roof" quickly morph from cute to borderline tiresome. But the affection the friends feel for each other adds genuine heart, and the love the authors have for their subject often leads to legitimate cleverness.

As such, one leaves Gutenberg! The Musical! smiling but also pondering the nature of musical craft. After all, is the initial impulse to make a musical about Gutenberg any odder than fashioning one about Georges Seurat, the Titanic or a book of cat poetry?

I'll say this. I'd have liked that last one a lot better if Grizabella wore a Feces hat.



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