They may be singing “You’ve Got to Have Heart” nightly over at City Center, but exactly ten blocks south at the Lyceum, there’s a whole lot of heart in a little musical called
[title of show] that has miraculously made it from the living rooms of co-creators Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen to the Great White Way.
In addition to Bell and Bowen’s considerable talents as writers and performers — as well as their dynamic leading ladies, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff — the show also has a great deal of passion, tons of wit, and a handful of catchy tunes, all of which might be enough to turn this impossible dream into a long-running reality.
Conversely, to paraphrase the musical’s final number, [title of show] may only end up as nine thousand people’s favorite thing. Without question, some of the paying public won’t be happy parting with their hard earned dollars to see four performers and one keyboardist, Larry Pressgrove, dressed in street clothes on a barely-there set (by Neil Patel). And, the show is, at least on the surface, a musical about making a musical — one with more than its fair share of inside jokes. To put it bluntly, Wicked it ain’t.
In fact, the piece began life as the pair’s late-in-the-game submission to the then-tiny 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF); and the first two thirds of the musical — its strongest material — focus on that original show’s conception. We watch as Bowen and Bell, these “two nobodies in New York” (to use the title of one of the show’s best songs), throw out ideas, procrastinate, and eventually settle on the clever concept of simply using their own conversations verbatim as the dialogue for their show.
The latter and less satisfying section of the musical starts happily enough, as the now foursome recall in a pair of medleys their sucessful NYMF run and Off-Broadway success at the Vineyard Theatre in 2006. But soon the creators inevitably melt down, second-guess themselves, and hurt each other as they try to make their way to Broadway. It’s a good thing we know there’s a happy ending in store.
During that last section, Bell argues for taking out some of the obscure showbiz references we’ve already heard — and which indeed may prove to be a turn-off to more than a few audience members. But since the show is being performed in New York City, one can be assured more than nine people will laugh hysterically when one character turns to another and intones, “Don’t be silly, of course you were meant to have children.” (An Into the Woods reference, and one made even funnier by the presence of that show’s star, Joanna Gleason, on my visit) or an excited mention of actress Mary Stout or lighting designer Ken Billington.
Meanwhile, a continuing series of answering machine messages from some of musical theater’s reigning divas, including Kerry Butler, Christine Ebersole, Victoria Clark, and Patti LuPone, can probably be enjoyed by a broader audience, although knowing these ladies adds an extra spark to the running gag.
Michael Berresse, best known as one of Broadway’s finest actor-dancers, directs the proceedings with a sure hand and provides plenty of movement to keep the musical from seeming too static. Unsurprisingly, Bowen and Bell play this version of themselves very well, with Bell’s superb comic timing allowing him to get a laugh out of even some of the piece’s weaker material.
The lovely Blickenstaff, who recently appeared in The Little Mermaid (as she mentions), proves to be a major asset, contributing both a winning personality and a kick-ass voice, while Blackwell, a self-described “handsome lady,” could have a great future playing all the sharp-edged roles that Randy Graff and Julie Halston don’t have time for thanks to her razor-sharp delivery. (She’s also a better singer than she gives herself credit for.)
Its insidery tone aside, [title of show] will certainly speak to anyone who has worked hard to make their dreams come true — despite the nasty opinions of others and the discouraging voices in their own heads. Equally if not more important, the show has a lot to say about the nature of true friendship. In the end, this little-musical-that-could gives us more than enough to listen to, in every sense of the term, to warrant a visit.