Stage Review: [title of show] – likeable cast delivers a heart from nothing

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At one point in [title of show], currently playing at the Revue Stage on Granville Island, one of the characters talks about wanting to strive for something more than just a bunch of funny songs and sketches strung together to create an original musical; he wants some depth and with it a heart.  Fortunately for us, the odd-ball premise of this show-within-a-show, coupled with a likeable cast, delivers.

Title of ShowJeff (Shawn Macdonald) and Hunter (Greg Armstrong-Morris) have one big dream: they want to make it big on Broadway.  As a stepping stone to achieving their dream they decide to write a musical for the upcoming New York Musical Festival.  Problem is, they only have three weeks to do it and as their blank writing pad suggests, nary an idea of what it will be about.  Eventually the two seize on the idea of writing their musical about writing their musical.  Recruiting friends Susan (Meghan Gardiner) and Heidi (Lauren Bowler) we watch as the four create the musical, battle doubts and insecurities, get the musical chosen for the festival and eventually see it produced Off-Broadway and even a short run on Broadway itself.

[title of show] is a what I can only characterize as a “convenient” musical.  As we quickly realize, and are told a number of times, the lines they are saying are what were actually said during the writing process:

“We could put this exact conversation in the show?”
“So everything I say from now on could actually be in our show?”
“Like this?”
“Like this.”

While perhaps on the surface not terribly inventive or witty, this convenient riff plays throughout the show and adds to some of its appeal.  This self-awareness even goes one step further by providing playwrights Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell the ability to manipulate the show’s direction and even help with ending or transitioning a particular scene when they get stuck.

Macdonald, Armstrong-Morris, Bowler and Gardiner are all obviously having fun with the material and easily handle the music under the direction of Stewart Yu.  While in its more serious moments the quartet finds the show’s true heart, no doubt as actors playing actors they know what these characters are experiencing, I did yearn for a little more of a connection between Jeff and Hunter; at one point Hunter goes in for a kiss but it seems to come completely out of left field.

For me though the stand-out here is Gardiner, which might be a little surprising since she is one of the “secondary characters”.  Sure she is the one that gets lots of “wacky and clever” things to say but she is so easily wacky and clever that it is a match made in musical theatre heaven.

Director Mike Mackenzie keeps things simple relying on his actors and four chairs although sometimes the chairs did upstage the actors as they were noisily repositioned between scenes.

There are tons of musical theatre references peppered throughout the show – some more esoteric than others – but that doesn’t mean you’ll be left behind if you’re not a musical theatre aficionado.

As we left the theatre last night, my partner likened it to Seinfeld – a show about nothing.  While I agree somewhat with that observation, I think [title of show] has way more heart than Seinfeld ever did.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars [title of show]

Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen.  Book by Hunter Bell.  Directed by Mike Mackenzie.  A Homeshark Equity Co-op production. On stage at the Revue Stage through February 26, 2011.

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