The creators of the breakout musical hit [title of show] — stars Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Jeff Bowen, and Heidi Blickenstaff, director/choreographer Michael Berresse, and musical director Larry Pressgrove — have reunited for the meandering if tremendously entertaining new musical, Now.Here.This., at the Vineyard Theatre.
The show is a collection of sketches and songs inspired by the lives of the performers, and also by the writings of a Trappist Monk named Thomas Merton. Specifically, the focus is on the concept that gives this musical its title, which is all about being in the present moment in order to experience life more fully.
However, there are many things that keep us from being fully present, and the cast addresses some of these as well. Bell’s easily distracted onstage persona is the most obvious example, but the show suggests that it’s actually events in our past that are often the largest obstacles.
Flashbacks abound, with each performer getting his or her own narrative arc. Bowen’s tracks his journey into full acceptance of his identity as a gay man. Blickenstaff’s revolves around her need for attention. Bell’s is mostly about his fantasy life, living in his own head instead of the here and now. The most compelling journey, however, is that of Blackwell who discusses how filling up the day with activities used to be her way of escaping from a home life that filled her with shame.
Bowen’s music is mostly buoyant, with a 1960s pop sound as a primary influence. The songs also take full advantage of the tight harmonies this foursome can create.
The musical could use a bit of trimming. For example, “The Amazing Adventures of the ‘Doc’ Wilbert S. Pound” is an amusing tune with an Irish sea shanty flavor to it, but it also feels out of place. The same goes for a sequence in which the cast talk about their mutual love of the movie, Tootsie.
Still, the four performers demonstrate a fierce commitment to the work, and their enthusiasm is contagious.