[title of show]

From Fringe Festival to Fringe Festival with a Broadway stop along the way is hardly the normal trajectory for a Hollywood Fringe Festival entry. Then again, [title of show] is not your average, run-of-the-mill Fringe entry, as Fringe Festivalgoers can now discover at the Hollywood Fringe, where Theatre Unleashed has unleashed a stripped-down-to-basics but highly entertaining [tos].

p_1180_i_3969262 Scenie winners Travis Dixon and Christopher Maikish play real-life co-writers Hunter Bell and and Jeff Bowen, who in the spring of 2004 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  (Julia Plostnieks and Heather Lake), 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.

Since then, [title of show] has gone on to off-Broadway, where Bell and Bowen both won the Obie Award, transferred to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, with Bell’s book scoring a Tony nomination, gone on to become a regional and student theater favorite, and now, nearly a decade after its birth, it has returned to its Fringe Festival roots. How’s that for life imitating art?

p_1180_i_9548603 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.

p_1180_i_4026700 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.

Among [title of show]’s other musical highlights is Dixon’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.” Plostnieks and Lake 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.

Since Hollywood Fringe Festival entries must be able to put up a set and then strike it within minutes of the previous show and the one to follow, [title of show] proves a perfect Fringe Festival choice, Bell’s book calling for a scenic design of four chairs (and a keyboard for the fictional show’s accompanist Larry to tickle the ivories).

Previously reviewed productions of [title of show] have revealed it to be every bit a “director’s musical” as it is a performer’s. Corey Lynn Howe’s direction is competent, and provides each actor plenty of moments to shine, but it is not nearly as inspired as it could be.

p_1180_i_7628777 Fortunately, Howe has assembled an all-around terrific cast, two of whom have won Outstanding Lead Actor Scenies, and all four of whom make [title of show]’s real-life characters come to vivid, memorable life,

Dixon, a Scenie-winner for his performance as Curly in Oklahoma! a few years back, does powerhouse work as Hunter, a young man with dreams of Broadway and a Tony, whose tastes run toward trashy reality TV and ‘80s Broadway blockbusters. (Dixon doubles too as choreographer.) The equally dynamic Maikish, who won his Scenie as The Next Fairy Tale’s Prince Copernicus, transforms fabulously from storybook-handsome prince to bespectacled theater geek Jeff, a man who prefers forgotten musicals to megahits, worries considerably more than his show-writing partner, and has a more realistic outlook on life.

p_1180_i_2366056 Lake brings a delightful quirkiness to real-life Broadway show vet Heidi, and earns deserved cheers for the show’s big power ballad “A Way Back To Then.” Plostnieks makes for a deliciously off-the-wall Susan, whose self-deprecating jokes and occasionally inappropriate remarks can’t mask a talent equal to her costars’.

Musical director Jim Blackett not only provides impeccable keyboard accompaniment throughout the show but proves himself a charmer when Bell’s book allows him a few dry words to say once Hunter and Jeff have gotten things worked out “with the union.”

As befits a Hollywood Fringe Festival, this is the barest-boned [title of show] I’ve seen—truly just four chairs, some props, and a minimal though effective lighting design. That’s it … and probably not all that different from when [title of show] was first unveiled. Erin Scott is stage manager.

[title of show]’s proven track record makes it unique among this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival entries. Add to that the fact that it’s [tos]’s first L.A. staging since Celebration Theatre’s 2010 Los Angeles premiere—and a terrifically performed one at that—and you’ve got a surefire SRO 2013 Fringe hit.

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.


–Steven Stanley
June 18, 2013

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