Review: Gutenberg! The Musical! – I tip my hat to the silliness of it all

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At times downright silly, but always a great deal of fun, Gutenberg! The Musical! returns to Vancouver with a production on stage at Presentation House in North Vancouver through October 9th, 2010.

The premise for the show is quite simple. Bud (Toby Berner) and Doug (Nathan Clark) have come up with an idea for a new mega-musical based on the invention of the printing press .  Taking some liberties with inventor Johannes Gutenberg’s life (Bud and Doug refer to it as “historical fiction – fiction that is true”), the duo perform a “concert” version of their show for some big Broadway producers that they hope are in the audience.

Another meta-musical in the same vein as The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) and Forbidden Broadway, the big difference here is that writers Scott Brown and Anthony King don’t rely on other people’s work for Gutenberg!; theirs is a unique creation that takes pot shots at a number of musical theatre clichés without beating you over the head with them.  This is both a blessing and a curse though as I am sure lots of references simply sailed past me last night without any recognition.

Berner and Clark are fun to watch and have energy to spare.  Good thing too, since having this seeming boundless energy is an absolute must for a show where they not only play the two show producers, but the 20+ characters in their musical as well.  Director Brian Anderson keeps the pair constantly on the move throughout the relatively short 90 minutes (which curiously includes an intermission) and creates some very funny business with just a bunch of hats, rather low-tech special effects and props that looked like they were rescued from the dumpster behind the theatre.

Gutenberg! The Musical!
Nathan Clark and Toby Berner in a scene from Gutenberg! The Musical! on stage at Presentation House in North Vancouver.

But while Berner and Clark are believable in their earnestness as the producers looking to get their show to Broadway and deliver the deliberately bad dialogue with conviction, they did miss the mark on a number of occasions musically.  While it could be argued that the ability to sing doesn’t really matter here since they are playing characters that wouldn’t necessarily sing well, I see that as a bit of a cop out; if you’re going to make fun of the musical theatre genre you should have the musical chops to back it up.

For those reading this review you have, according to Bud and Doug, benefited from Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg’s invention.  I think that alone deserves a tip of our collective hats.  But despite a few problems in the music department, I still tip my own hat to the cast and crew for making me laugh out loud at the silliness of it all.

4 out of 5 Stars Gutenberg! the Musical!
Presentation House Theatre, North Vancouver
22 September – 9 October 2010

Tickets are $24 – $30 available online, by calling the box office at 604.990.3474 or at the door.

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