[title of show]

Santa Ana’s Theatre Out opens what looks to be its most exciting season to date with the Tony-nominated [title of show], a four-performer musical every bit as unique as its title, and one which offers OC audiences a combination of non-stop hilarity, bouncy songs with some inspired lyrics, and a quartet of delightful performances under the imaginative direction of three-time Scenie winner Tito Ortiz (who also choreographs this time round).

tos_WEB15 [title of show]’s back story begins in New York City in the spring of 2004 when a pair of 30something writing partners (Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen) sat down to create a new musical in just three weeks, that being precisely the period of time remaining before the New York Musical Theatre Festival’s submission deadline. Joined by friends (and fellow performers) Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, the quartet met the deadline with a 90-minute musical about how [title of show] came to life, from its first spark of inspiration to its Opening Night. As for the show’s title, having rejected such candidates as Festival Of Dreams, Your Arms Too Short To Write This Musical, and RENTT (with two t’s), the creative team decided to stick with what was on the application form: [title of show]. And wonder of wonders, their dream became a reality.

Following its World Premiere at the Festival, [title of show] opened off-Broadway (where Bell and Bowen both won the Obie Award) and eventually transferred to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, with Bell’s book scoring a Tony nomination. How’s that for life imitating art?

tos_WEB02 Many of [title of show]’s best and biggest laughs come from its awareness that it is a musical about writing the very same musical the audience is seeing unfold before its eyes. Take for example this exchange:

HUNTER: What if the first scene is just us talking about what to write? We could put this exact conversation in the show. JEFF: Wait, so everything I say from now on could actually be in our show? HUNTER: Yeah. JEFF: Like this? HUNTER: Like this. JEFF: And this? HUNTER: And this. JEFF: This too? HUNTER: This too. JEFF: So I could say “Wonder Woman For President,” and that would get in our show? HUNTER: Uh-huh. JEFF: Wonder Woman For President. I’d watch a show that says that. HUNTER: Me too.

tos_WEB11 Other deliciously clever moments include Hunter’s remark, “Right now I think we need to get out of this scene because it feels too long,” immediately followed by (what else?) a blackout. Later, there’s the song “Monkeys And Playbills,” which has Susan and Heidi showing up in Hunter and Jeff’s dream, after which Hunter asks the girls what they think of the dream sequence, prompting Heidi to remark, “I’m sorry. Are we in this scene now?” Another brilliant moment occurs when Heidi wonders, “If the finished script is in that envelope, should we still be talking?” Guess what? Blackout..

[title of show] makes for the perfect “post-gay” season opener for Southern California’s most prolific LGBT theater. Bell and Bowen are both out performers, and though the show has a very gay sensibility in its fascination with musical theater (and drag queen names), the show isn’t about being gay, and the writers’ sexual orientation is only referred to a couple times, as when a discussion of Broadway/West End trivia prompts Heidi to ask, “Is it me or did it just get like three degrees gayer in here?” Later on, Hunter remarks on “that cutie in the red shirt,” Jeff warns him that the guy is straight, and Hunter quips, “Well, so is spaghetti until it gets hot and wet.” (I have to remember that line.)

tos_WEB18 Thought its cast of four are a good ten years younger than Bell, Bowen, Blinkenstaff, and Johnson were at the time of [title of show]’s creation, in all other respects they fit their roles to a T in this couldn’t-be-better showcase for four of the OC’s brightest up-and-coming talents.

Jaycob Hunter (Jeff) won an Outstanding Featured Actor Scenie for his work as Clifford Bradshaw in last year’s Cabaret, a performance I dubbed “the production’s biggest surprise,” and he is no less astonishing here, his sexy, perky blond twink of a Jeff about as night-and-day different from Cabaret’s intense young hero as two characters (and performances) can be.

Spencer D Blair (Hunter) and Amanda Knight (Heidi) are Theatre Out returnees as well, having shared a Best Ensemble Scenie for their work in Avenue Q, and [title of show] offers the talented duo even greater opportunities to shine. Not only does Blair’s bespectacled Hunter prove a just-right counterpoint to Hunter’s fauxhawked Jeff, the two have great stage chemistry together. The same can be said about Knight (who gets to stop the show with the evening’s beltiest number “A Way Back To Then”) and her female partner in crime, Theatre Out newcomer Laura De Lano, who gives Susan a zestful sass and an infectious girl-next-door appeal.

tos_WEB04 Other musical highlights include Blair’s jive-talking F-word-sprinkled performance as Blank Paper in “An Original Musical,” one which prompts Jeff to ask “Is this character black?” to which Hunter responds “Motherfucker, I can be anything you want me to be.” Knight and De Lano get their center-stage moments in “I Am Playing Me” and “Secondary Characters” (the titles are self-explanatory). “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” ties up the evening with Bell and Bowen’s personal philosophy, which is not a bad one to have at all.

tos_WEB08 Charismatic musical director Stephen Hulsey is back onstage for the first time since 2010’s Tick, Tick…Boom! and Zanna, Don’t!, not only doing impeccable work as onstage accompanist “Larry,” but even getting his own few dry words to say once Hunter and Jeff have gotten things worked out “with the union.”

Scenic designers Ortiz and Joey Baital have given [title of show] just the right abstract set—four distinctly different chairs in front of a pair of red-brick panels, imaginatively lit by Joy Bice. David C. Carnevale and Ortiz costume each character in a personality-appropriate outfit (though De Lano’s could be a tad more flattering). Additional thumbs up go to Carnevale’s sound design. Alexis Stanfield is stage manager and Mary Chessmar lighting assistant.

[title of show] opens Theatre Out’s 2013 season on a high note indeed, a season which includes LGBT musical powerhouses Falsettos and Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Tennessee Williams’ dark, dramatic Orpheus Descending and Del Shores’ one-and-only Sordid Lives.

tos_WEB10 tos_WEB06

Admittedly, the more you know about musical theater, the more you’ll relish [title of show]’s many in-jokes, making it the perfect musical for show queens of any gender or sexual orientation, but even those who don’t know Steve and Eydie’s Golden Rainbow from McDonald’s Golden Arches will find much to relish in this hilarious, tuneful hit.

PS: Check out this “[tos]sary” of some of [tos]’s more obscure terms and you’ll be fully prepared to enjoy [title of show] to the max.

Theatre Out, The Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
January 12, 2013
Photos: Stephen Rack

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