Review: [title of show]

[title of show] is a reviewer’s nightmare: what can you say about a show whose sole aim is to poke fun at itself? A musical about writing a musical about writing a musical (and so on), it follows the story of Jeff Bowen (James Daly) and Hunter Bell (Joe Beighton) as they write and produce a show for a theatre festival in New York. Starring – you guessed it – Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, [title of show] features such classics as ‘Filling Out The Form’, ‘I Am Playing Me’ and, of course, ‘Untitled Opening Number’. 

It is precisely because the show is so self-referential and metatheatrical that it becomes invulnerable to any criticism. So if I say that there were sometimes faults in Constance Chapman’s singing – which is for the most part pretty good – it’s because her character, Susan, is supposed to struggle with her voice. If I say that the concept becomes worn out quickly, then that is exactly what the play is trying to make fun of. If at one point I feel like the show is a collection of disparate sketches rather than a coherent whole, then, sure enough, ten minutes later that is exactly what the cast sing about. I could give it 1/10 for frustrating and boring me, or 10/10 for how successfully it frustrated and bored me. 

The first 20 minutes or so in particular are a real struggle; there is, after all, only a certain amount of awkward dancing and masturbation jokes that one can take. Add to this a layer of obscure Broadway trivia, and at some point you will probably feel that this show isn’t for you. But it does get better: the goofy warmth of the four characters starts to come through, the quality of the musical numbers improves, and the jokes actually become funny. ‘Monkeys and Playbills’ is a hilariously bizarre sequence, and the two or three moments which involve Larry the pianist (Stephen Gage) were the only ones at which I felt myself actually laughing out loud. 

If the first 20 minutes are clumsy, then the last 20 are sheer padding. For a show which is supposed to tackle the problem of creativity, the scenes which follow the natural climax of the performance at the festival are largely irrelevant. To the credit of the cast, the scenes were well acted, but the point at which the show ceases to be about writing a show, and instead about Hunter and Jeff’s personal difficulties you realise how thinly-stretched the whole concept is. 

Aside from my concerns about the nature of the play, there were some quite impressive performances: Lily Parham as Heidi is perhaps the most believable of the cast. The simplicity of the choreography also suits the show perfectly, and Gage’s piano playing is effortlessly cool. 

Sadly, though, a good production cannot mask the fact that [title of show] is a frustrating piece of theatre. It is one of those shows which probably really appeals to hardcore musical fans, but for the rest of us, it is too much concept and too little substance. 

4/10

Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

[title of show] is on at the Corpus Playroom, 7pm until Saturday 29th. Get your tickets online at https://www.corpusplayroom.com/whats-on/musical/[title-of-show].aspx

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