by Clark Groome
Bud Davenport and Doug Simon have composed and written a show they are auditioning for some big-name Broadway producers. The auditions, oddly, are taking place at Ambler’s Act II Playhouse. Because of the producers’ busy schedules, the tryouts will be repeated through Nov. 4. Earlier there had been identical presentations at the Montgomery Theater.
The show, “Gutenberg! The Musical,” is, they tell us early in the proceedings, “historical fiction,” which is “fiction that’s true.” In the tryouts Bud (Tony Braithwaite) and Doug (Steve Pacek) perform all the roles in what is intended ultimately to be a big-budget, big-cast show that might even have some big-name stars playing minor roles.
If nothing else, these guys think big. And what they’re thinking ends up, for the most part, being very silly and very funny. The idea of doing a musical about Johannes Gutenberg and his famous printing press (invented around 1440) is absurd. But that’s what they’ve done. To spice it up, they’ve added characters ranging from a beef fat trimmer to a monk (a very evil monk) to a couple of town drunks and an old black narrator. There’s even a love interest for Gutenberg named Helvetica. “She’s also a font,” we’re told. No, really?
Braithwaite and Pacek, I mean Davenport and Simon, play all the parts. The only way those watching know who’s who is that each character has a baseball cap inscribed with his or her name. Scott Brown and Anthony King wrote “Gutenberg! The Musical!” Their book and music are both clever and satirical. There are references to almost every Broadway musical you can think of, and the music often sounds like something you’ve heard before.
It’s very clever. In Braithwaite and Pacek’s extremely capable hands, it’s also a lot of fun. If I had my druthers, however, I would shorten it from its 100-minute two acts to something more like 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Montgomery Theater/Act II production, directed by Tom Quinn, is terrific. The good designers are Felix Pinschey (set), Jim Leitner (lighting) and Scott Anderson (costumes, including, I would imagine, all those baseball caps). Sonny Leo is the show’s music director and choreographer. He is also on stage as the audition’s pianist Charlie. The three on-stage personalities seem to be in perfect sync.
For tickets to “Gutenberg! The Musical!”, playing at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler through Nov. 4, call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org.