Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

[Title of Show]

Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen; book by Hunter Bell
Lyceum Theatre, New York City
(2008)

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While it's gratifying to watch artists making their dream come true, [title of show] feels like some of the books read during a university course on postmodern literature; one is never quite sure where truth ends and imagination begins. So thorough is the conversational tone of each self-referential song and line that it's easy to start believing that when Bowen and Bell started shaping the material, maybe they did burst into song every so often.

If the production is indeed a verbatim representation of the conversations and process Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell went through to complete their show, then there are sections which feel a little too reworked - but if the revisions and development which the production went through (referenced repeatedly in the second part of the production) did happen, then there are elements which one would have liked to see cleaned up, particularly the climax and the somewhat strange relationship between supporting players Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell (are they rivals? Friends? Fighting some inexplicable mutual attraction?).

What all four cast members are is extremely likeable, sporting hearty doses of talent (especially Blickenstaff, whose voice is by far the strongest in the production). It's easy for the audience to invest in their journey and hope they succeed at their dreams. This could be further exploited if the piece were less fluffy, and if Bell and Bowen actually got around to asking the important questions they say they want to explore in "Two Nobodies in New York": is art just there to further quests for fame and fortune? There is a toothless attempt to show how Bell becomes consumed by the need for the play to succeed, but he is so likeable and apologizes to his company mates so readily that there is never any real feeling of danger that the entire performance might blow up in their faces.

Instead, once the musical has been completed and submitted to the New York Musical Festival, the show's reflection of reality becomes even more pointed: the artists must simply wait for something to happen.

It's this point at which [title of show] starts to lose its already murky way, with cuts, transitions and montages whizzing the audience through the period of time where the production first went on for six performances at the festival, then transferred to the Vineyard theatre. Tensions rise between the company members, but given that the performers are all on stage, there's not a lot of suspense over whether or not the show will fall apart.

The show references numerous Broadway tropes, from "Monkeys and Playbills" direct use of flopped productions to a line in "Nine People's Favorite Things" that had the auditorium cracking up - when they talk about how maybe five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred people might eventually love [title of show].

It may be a screwball show from a bunch of "downtown insiders," as one character quotes toward the end of the show, but [title of show] will appeal to exactly that sort of theatregoer, and likely it will appeal pretty intensely.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody