An unfortunate snowstorm reduced the audience for [title of show]
to just a handful. An enthusiastic and very entertained handful, but when a show is so dependent on breaking the fourth wall and creating an insider-complicity the empty seats caused a serious problem. Not that it stopped or even slowed down the cast. Notes were nailed, dance moves were tight and the energy exuded filled the voids where the full house should have been. An intimate show became a little more intimate.
The plotline of [title of show]
is, as the title trumpets, very self-referential and indulgent. Two friends decide to enter a theatre festival, and the writing of the show becomes the show. To paraphrase Adam Norrad's composer character Jeff, "We're writing a show about four characters performing a show about writing a show about . . ." And so it twists and turns. When the concept clicks, more often than not, it is hysterical fun, and wide-eyed exclamations of innocence and confusion receive sincere belly laughs. At other times the Broadway/musical theatre references fly by so fast and furious that the jokes are lost. As one character worries, "All of our references are so obscure." Some of them are. A uproarious number based on the titles of famous Broadway flops falls flat only because all the names aren't familiar to a general audience. Here again it would have worked with a larger audience -- different audience members laughed at different times, according to the titles they recognized. With a fuller house, more titles would have been recognized and everyone would have felt in on the joke.
There is a specific language, and definitely specific mannerisms, that gypsies and aspiring gypsies use: [title of show]
catches this dialect perfectly and sends it up affectionately but mercilessly. And how great to see a show where the two male leads are gay men, but their gayness is not a source of trauma or even really relevant other than it makes them wittier and more lovable. And gags about trannies, gay sex and drag queens that are made with affectionate familiarity rather than mocking otherness are a welcome treat. Forbes MacQuarrie plays Hunter the bookwriter as a sexy nerd whose neuroses are front and centre and happily accepted. Despite being the nominal villain in the let's-put-on-a-show plotline he is irresistible, and his penchant for removing his shirt (for fear of sweat stains, he claims) certainly helps his cuddly cub persona. Norrad is a cooler, more graceful presence, and his every move seems choreographed and deliberate. He also gets many of the money notes and is highly skilled in landing a punchline with dagger-like precision -- and then smiling to show that it really is no effort at all. One can see the character's intellectual wheels whirring in his brain as he attempts to keep the creation on track and making sense. And he is just a joy to watch physically, whether he is strutting, jiving, swivelling his hips or gearing up for a big high note. The duo sing of their frustration at being "two nobodies in New York," and an extra layer of irony is added because two talents of this calibre could never be "nobodies."
Biance Heuvelmans as Heidi is a delightful sex bomb and has probably the funniest number. She is "stuck in a show playing me" and the jokes about the impossibility of the notes she is asked to sustain are all the funnier because she has the talent and lung power to sustain them and then some. Michelle Nash's Susan gets some of the more intense moments and some non-sequitur jokes, which she pulls off with aplomb. Her "Die, Vampire, Die" number should be required viewing for every self-help seminar. Accompanist and musical director David Ruggiero is an amiable presence and takes the barbs and jabs in strides.
Musical theatre fans will find lots to enjoy in [title of show]
and will have the added satisfaction of feeling smug for getting all the references. Those with a more tangential relationship to this gayest of arts will still get to enjoy four stellar performances, can savour some very clever musical numbers and can just pretend to get the more obscure references to knock those snobby theatre queens out of their spotlight.
[title of show] runs till Sun, Feb 17 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100 Ossington Ave. lowerossingtontheatre.com