Review: '[title of show]' at TheatreWorks New Milford
"I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth-favorite thing..."
New Milford, CT - [title of show] is an original broadway musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell. Because it is a musical about two "nobodies" who decide to write a musical starring themselves and their attractive and talented lady friends named Susan and Heidi, the two men in the show are named Jeff and Hunter who are writing a musical in three weeks so that they can submit it to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The production of this quirky piece at TheatreWorks New Milford was directed by Alicia Dempster of Danbury with musical direction by a fine keyboard player named Steven Oliveri who sat onstage in the role of Larry. The four-member cast included four super talented community theatre actors, namely Carey Van Hollen, Rob Bassett, Ashley McLeod and Mike L'Altrella.
The TheatreWorks' program features the note from the original production written by the original Jeff and Hunter. They noted that the New York Times called their show "DELECTABLE ENTERTAINMENT! A postmodern homage to the grand tradition of backstage musicals like 'Babes in Arms,' 'Kiss Me, Kate' and 'A Chorus Line.'" It is definitely a look behind the scenes at the creative process set in a rehearsal space in NYC with clearly the look and feel of a small Off-Broadway show. Theatre fans will delight in the insider references and everyone else can study the two page glossary in the program of many of the more obscure references.
The director made very smart choices in her staging on the TheatreWorks stage. The essentially bare stage designed by Richard Pettibone featured four mismatched and colorful chairs that were used well throughout the show. When Mr. Oliveri wasn't ably accompanying the singers stage right, he checked his cell phone and enjoyed his beverage. He also had to remember a few nicely placed reaction shots and just a handful of lines. The cast and their director were in charge of each character's appropriate costume design. Mr. Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski lit the actors and the bare stage nicely.
Carey Van Hollen played the role of Susan, a quirky actress with a corporate day job. I remembered Ms. Van Hollen as Lucy T. Slut and many other puppets in 'Avenue Q' and it was great to hear her singing again. The other secondary character of the cast was Ashley McLeod in the role that was played by Heidi Blickenstaff and is therefore called Heidi. Ms. Mcleod has a wonderful belt that was exciting to hear when she sang "I Am Playing Me" and her half of "Secondary Characters" with Ms. Van Hollen. She returns to the stage after five years studying to be a special education teacher and I look forward to seeing this young singing actress in future roles.
Rob Bassett made his TheatreWorks debut as the book writer named Hunter. This member of the Board of the Directors at The Brookfield Theatre of the Arts gave it his all as the zany author trying to finish the project in time while dealing with self doubt.
In the role of Jeff the music writer was the supremely talented Michael L'Altrella. This singing actor was last seen on this stage as Princeton/Rod in 'Avenue Q,' a performance that earned him a nomination for best actor for our own Onstage Critics Awards. His other memorable performances that I have reviewed include Tommy in 'Tommy' at Arts by Angeloria and Jamie in 'The Last Five Years' at Phoenix Stage Company. Mr. L'Altrella described to Johnny O on Backstage on WZBG what is required of the actors playing the writing duo when he said they are "two tenor guys singing a lot of stuff in the stratosphere in tight harmonies." Getting to see another excellent performance by one of my favorite community theatre actors was well-worth another drive to New Milford.
I very much appreciated the tight harmonies and the duets done by the guys were among my favorite numbers. So I am not sure why the song I have been humming since I attended the senior citizen final dress rehearsal (where tickets are both free and highly coveted) is "Nine People's Favorite Thing."
My favorite pop culture/theatre references included "Key Change!," Dixon-Ticonderoga (admittedly a teacher reference,) Tim Gunn and 'Wicked.' [title of show] is presented without intermission and has a run time of less than two hours. It runs at TheatreWorks through July 31 and I highly recommend a trip to New Milford to both those who work in the theatre and those who admire them as I do. The July 29th show will featured a wine and cheese reception with original cast member Susan Blackwell.