Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[title of show], Beck Center

(From left: Pat Miller, Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly, Amiee Collier and Will Sanborn)

When I was a creative director at advertising agencies, a rookie copywriter would occasionally propose a radio spot for a car dealer with this pitch: “See, it’s two ad agency guys sitting around talking about what would make a good radio spot for our car dealer. And as they talk and crack jokes, they cover all the copy points. When they’re done talking, the spot is over.”

Those well-meaning copywriters were sent back to their cubicles with their Dixon Ticonderogas tucked between their legs, because that is a too-easy, too-facile way to write an engaging spot. The same, it turns out, is true for the theatrical version of that gambit, which is [title of show], now at Beck Center.

This musical is centered on the creators Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) sitting around and talking about how to write a musical. They are joined by their gal pals Susan and Heidi, and soon they are riffing on all sorts of theatrical and cultural minutiae circa 2006, when the play was first produced.

No doubt, there were howls of laughter eight years ago as the script and songs poked fun at "stars"  such as Shields and Yarnell to Heidi Klum. But these pop references have not aged well. If fact, they are so squishy and soft there’s not a hard edge of contemporary wit in the entire piece. This is why the on-going satirical wonder Forbidden Broadway keeps remaking itself, rewritten more than a dozen times since 1982, so the jibes stay fresh.

The only jokes that work here, even a little bit, are the meta references. As when they mail their script off to a new play festival and one asks, “If the play is in the envelope, should we still be talking?”

Of course, being a meta show the writers flagellate themselves before critics have the chance, worrying that their material is “self-indulgent and self-referential.” And they’re right, especially now.

The cast of Will Sanborn, Pat Miller, Amiee Collier and Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly try their best under the direction of Scott Spence, with the on-stage accompaniment of Larry Goodpaster at the keyboard. All four sing well, and the women fare better than the men in terms of shaping their characters. Plus, the penultimate song, ”Nine People’s Favorite Thing,” is still a winner.

But you couldn’t revive this show with the world’s most powerful defibrillator. Though [title of show] won an Obie Award in 2006, it now needs to be taken behind the barn and shot—so Bowen, Bell and the rest of us can move on with our lives.

[title of show]
Through November 16 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540.

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