CONFIDENT, ENERGETIC, ENJOYABLE
NZ Fringe Festival 2013|
[title of show]
Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Tabitha Arthur
Musical Direction by Hayden Taylor
Choreography by Sam McLeod
at Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington
From 28 Feb 2013 to 9 Mar 2013
Reviewed by Caoilinn Hughes, 1 Mar 2013
A musical comedy about making a musical comedy about writing a musical comedy, in less of a Gertrude Steinean convoluted modernist way and more of a Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters In Search of an Author exuberant, theatrical way.
Importantly, it is funny and musical, so win-win.
Meta-musical [title of show] was created in 2004 by two friends, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, in New York, after they discovered the deadline for script entries to the New York Musical Theatre Festival was in three weeks' time. They decided to use the three weeks to write a musical, and that musical ended up being about the process (including writer's block, decision-making, hard graft, collaborative challenges and, conversely, the joy and excitement) of writing a musical.
[title of show] was then performed off-Broadway in 2006, and finally made it to Broadway in 2008, receiving a number of awards along the way.
Energy Theatre's production of the show in Whitireia Theatre is the New Zealand premiere, and it is a perfect Fringe Festival fit. In fact, performing it as part of the Fringe adds a layer of complexity to the play, as one of its themes is the new writer's struggle with compromising their work to fit mainstream conventions: can glitz and glamour Broadway accommodate a greenhorn show with just four chairs and a keyboard for a set?
Since this is a tried and tested show, I won't say too much about the innovative script itself – mostly because it would ruin the effect for anyone going to see it – except that it feels about 15 minutes too long. Others in the audience made the same comment.
Perhaps there's not much that can be done there, besides a bit of re-direction, since this is not Energy Theatre's original script (but kudos that they made it so much their own I might have been fooled! That is really something, to make a Broadway hit feel homegrown!) If the script was their creation, I would suggest trimming a song here, a scene there, to sustain its sharp and lively feel. Having said that, the cast of four is impressively energetic and enthusiastic throughout.
Director Tabitha Arthur and Dance Coach Sam McLeod do a great job of directing and choreographing the cast through the highly physical 90-minute musical with their four-chair-set, devoid of props besides mobile phones. There is excellent use of comic timing and character interplay. The physicality is rarely tiresome, a testament to the performers too.
Sarah Andrews Reynolds, as Susan, is particularly impressive in her deliciously varied and sidesplitting physical comedy and line delivery: the standout performance. Christchurch-born William Duignan is likeable and believable as Hunter, and he has a lovely voice. There's something very understated about his performance that is charming, but he delivers quite a few lines to the back of the stage.
Waylon Edwards as Jeff seems less committed physically, but his voice is undoubtedly rich. MaryLouise Thomas, as Heidi, gets to show off her strong soprano voice in a few solos, but she does her best work leading the group harmonies.
Musical Director Hayden Taylor, who plays the keyboard on-stage, guides the songs fluidly and assuredly. He might rap performers' figurative knuckles a bit more for the occasional dud note though, if they're going to make Broadway!
Overall, a confident, energetic, enjoyable meta-musical comedy.
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