When the creators of a musical name it [title of show], you know they’re betting their bucks on pure moxie. Theatre Three has Bruce R. Coleman directing a sparkling cast in this “let’s put on a show” musical, and that’s a good thing because the moniker is a harbinger of the level of jokes to come. It is a musical about writing a musical, which isn’t such a new idea. Only this musical about writing a musical is about writing this musical. Narcissism, thy name is theater. This is a love it or hate it concept. To love it is forgivable. To hate it is to show your envy at not having thought of it yourself. Sure, it is a one trick pony, but if you could train a pony to do what this show does, you’d be nuts not to ride it all the way to Broadway, and that’s just what they did. So why fight it? Saddle up.
It’s not a Jack and Jill story as much as a Jack and Will story a la Will and Grace. Fortunately, the cast is just as quick and charismatic because the plot is just as thin. Hunter and Jeff set out to write a musical in three weeks in order to enter a contest. Having no other inspiration they choose themselves and their endeavor for the subject. They get two girls to help them: the “pretty one,” Heidi, and the “spunky one,” Susan. No love triangles here, though. Nothing that substantive crosses the adjoining apartments dance floor. Prepare yourself for earth-shattering songs about awkward photo shoots and blank pieces of potty-mouthed paper. In [title of show] they aren’t so much breaking ground as much as breaking wind — that is the level of the comedy. However, writing a show about writing the show you are performing does provide lots of opportunities to make fun of the making of theater. These jokes went over well with the opening night crowd of theater performers (who have Monday nights off). It will be interesting to see if average crowds find the clever as cute and the cute as clever. And to be sure, in this show, clever is king, or queen as the case may be.
Chad Peterson plays Hunter, the “Just Jack” of this sitcom sing-along. Peterson’s Hunter never misses an opportunity to exalt in this role of a laugh time. Late in the play, the mask slips a little as they wrestle with changes that might broaden the play’s appeal and he has to ease up on the fun-fare on every line. But for the most part it’s his energy that provides the center around which this baton twirls. His cohort Jeff is played by Alexander Ross, the more reasonable of the dancing duo. Peterson completes the comedic combo with confidence, and when it comes time for it to get tense, he follows his partner step for step. Marianne Galloway plays Susan, the self-proclaimed Corporate Whore. Having given up performing for the soul-sucking stability of a day job, she is invested from the outset. Galloway is aggressive about her comedy. She can walk down any dark alley armed only with a one-liner and feel safe. Filling out the foursome is Tricia Ponsford as Heidi, the only one of the group who’s actually been on Broadway. Heidi has one foot in the endeavor and one in the audition-perform-audition cycle. Ponsford is noticeably less flashy in the ensemble numbers but knocks the socks on her ode to childhood. It’s a rare touching moment. The fabulous foursome has such good chemistry; they make you want to be part of it all, if only to understand all the in-jokes.
Director Coleman has found the perfect set and costume designers: himself. Taking full advantage he sets the theater with two apartments joined with a common dance floor, adorned with lots of colors that are then echoed in the ensembles’ ensembles. Not to be outdone with the fun, lighting designer Amanda West keeps the lights fast and funky. The show flits between freeze, flashback and flash dance and the lights don’t miss a beat. Beats are provided by musical director Terry Dobson who is on stage, in the show, as a character. Don’t worry. They cleared it with the union.
This 90 minute romp is as light as a faerie wing and just as serious. Maybe they’ve waded into the shallow end of the pool but as they illustrate with their litany of failed Broadway shows, you could do worse. This show is not for everyone, but they don’t care. They proclaim themselves the rice crispy treat of the cake dessert cart. They are banking on the rice crispy lovers. As the final number says, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” If you like musicals and the world around them, you may be one of the nine.
Photo: (From left) Chad Peterson, Alex Ross, Tricia Ponsford, and (bottom) Marianne T. Galloway (Credit: Ken Birdsell for Theatre Three)