PARK CITY — As you enter the Egyptian Theater in Park City to sit down and watch Gutenberg! The Musical!, you notice that this may not be your typical evening of theater. The stage is set with a long table covered in baseball caps with various names written on them. There are two large bins (the type you store your Christmas decorations or winter coats in), a stool, a piano and various red taped markings on the floor. So immediately you know this is not going to be your typical flashy musical production.
Plan-B Theatre Company’s revival of GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! is presented as part of Musicals On Main at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre. The show begins with accompanist (Sean Sekino) giving us the typical pre-show announcements and then two exuberant young men (Kirt Bateman and Jay Perry) enter the stage stage to announce that tonight’s show will be more of a backer’s audition in hopes of securing a Broadway contract to produce their new show, Gutenberg! The Musical!
To say that “Gutenberg!” is a farce doesn’t come close to doing it justice. This veers into Forbidden Broadway or Waiting for Guffman territory and hits the tone of this style perfectly. How many musicals can you name that have subjects that seem supremely ill-fitted to the musical stage? There are dozens out there, like Carrie, A Doll’s Life, Animal Farm, and Hamlet in Space. And this show, like many of those, doesn’t really trade in historical accuracy. Instead, it uses historical fiction, which we are told is, “Fiction, that is true!”
I don’t want to give away any jokes (and this shows is packed with them) so here is as brief a synopsis as I can give without ruining the fun: Two characters named Bud and Doug, the fictional authors of a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, pitch their show to producers who might put their show up on Broadway. Because they don’t have a cast or an orchestra, Bud and Doug wear hats with the nearly 30 characters’ names on them and play all of the roles themselves. In the play-within-a-play, Johann Gutenberg is a wine presser who invents the printing press. An evil monk tries to stop him, and a beautiful girl named Helvetica loves him. The storyline is completely fictitious, which of course makes the earnestness of its fictional creators even more amusing.
Kirt Bateman and Jay Perry are perfectly cast as these two earnest, yet misdirected Broadway hopefuls. The straight-faced and exuberant presentation by each of them is what really makes this show so hilarious. I’ve seen many shows where the actors don’t commit to the premise and we get a sly wink to let us know that their “in” on the joke. There’s none of that here, which is what makes the antics, wild inaccuracies and naiveté so funny and endearing. You’re rooting for these two lovable losers to win this one. Director Jerry Rapier has skillfully done what every great director should: created a show where their hand disappears into the fabric of the show. I’m impressed that Rapier could devise a way to have a huge chorus line with only two actors on stage.
Sean Sekino deftly provides the musical accompaniment to the wonderful score and has provided great direction for the singing. Lighting designer Randy Rasmussen created great definition between the scenes in the show-within-the-show and the “explanation” bits where the actors are are defining a theatrical term or device. The choreography by Colleen Lewis was fun and energetic, especially in the Act One finale, “Tomorrow is Tonight” and Act Two’s “Go to Hell.” A few minor mike and lighting mistakes on opening night did nothing to deter the fun of the evening. I laughed until I cried and even on a couple of bits until I started to see stars from oxygen deprivation. If you like musicals, you’ll love this show. If you don’t like musicals, you’ll still love this show.