As its name implies, this is not a conventional musical. It’s about two writers and their two actress friends creating not just any musical, but the musical, “[title of show].” Or as Jeff, the character in the show based on Bowen, says, it’s “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.”
“[title of show]” first ran off-Broadway, then moved to Broadway, where Bell was nominated for the Best Book of a Musical award. The Women’s Theater Company is now presenting an utterly charming version of it at the Parsippany Playhouse, with direction and staging by Lauren Moran Mills.
Gerry Mastrolia plays Jeff, Joe Elefante plays Hunter, and Patricia Durante and Kathleen Clancy co-star as their actress friends, Heidi and Susan. All sing well, and convey enthusiasm for the quirky material. Onstage with them throughout the show, Deborah Martin accompanies them on piano and becomes a minor character in the plot, as well.
Smartly, Bell and Bowen recognized that they could only go so far with songs about writing songs, dialogue about writer’s block and the travails of the struggling artist, and in-jokes about the theater world. And so, as the novelty starts to wear off, “[title of show]” develops a real storyline, with escalating tension between the creators after their musical becomes more successful than they ever imagined it would.
The musical peaks with a big ballad, “A Way Back to Then,” delivered with convincing emotion by Durante, and then a finale in which the characters declare “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing/Than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”
It’s a fitting summary for a musical that must have seemed, from its start, to have more potential as a “cult favorite” than a true blockbuster, and is perfectly suited for an intimate theater such as the Parsippany Playhouse. This is the kind of play that, I’m sure, retained much of its off-Broadway flavor even when it was on Broadway. And it does so here, too.
“[title of show]” will be at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha through March 18; visit womenstheater.org.
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