“Meta,” as a description for movies, literature, and games, is very trendy lately; and that is why it was very canny of the Generic Theater to choose [title of show] as the opening show for their current season. It tells the story of Jeff (Garney Johnson) and Hunter (Matt Johnson), two guys “writing a musical about writing a musical about writing a musical” for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It is funny and knowing, without a sense of superiority that is often present in similarly “meta” works.
All photos by David A. Beloff
The performance begins with a pre-show slide show that illustrates and defines some of the terms and references that will be used in the show. Some examples are “mexecellent,” “Henry, SweetHenry,” and “Dinah Manoff.” Whether that concept is actually in the script, or the idea of someone involved in this production, I don’t know; but, either way, it lets us know that the goal for the evening is not to have jokes that go over the audience’s heads, but to have jokes that are understood and enjoyed by everyone (although, I think more people would have benefitted from a slide defining “Shields and Yarnell”). Unfortunately, the night I saw that show there must have been some kind of problem with the projector, because for the first few minutes of the show there were quick flashes of light on the stage wall where the slides had appeared, giving the impression that the characters were sitting through a lightning storm.
[title of show] is somewhat unusual, in that it is a musical that isn’t a large spectacle featuring a large cast and a huge, complicated set (this is addressed in the show itself). The performers are all talented, and serve the production admirably. Garney Johnson and Matt Johnson have a good chemistry, working very well together, both theatrically and musically. Matt Johnson is natural and relaxed in his role, even when in outrageous situations. I found Garney Johnson’s depiction of Jeff to be a touch too false in his attempt to portray an affected gay man. In theater lingo I would say he was indicating slightly. That just means that, although I was entertained, I simply didn’t quite believe that he was the character. Lauren R. Rodgers brings a fantastic energy to her role as Susan, a woman afraid to quit her day job and devote her time to her passion. Alexandra Shepard plays Broadway actress Heidi, and does a good job with a character that is not as well written as the other three. The final character is keyboard player Larry, engagingly played by Roy George, who is also the show’s music director. The five of them are strong individually and collectively.
The script specifies (with the characters talking and singing about it) that the set be an ordinary room with four chairs and a keyboard, and that the characters’ costumes be one set of clothing with no changes for each character. There is no costume designer, director, or coordinator listed in the program, so I don’t know who decided what the actors would wear [though Shon Stacy is listed as director elsewhere]. Was it the director? The stage manager? The actors themselves? Do they wear the same clothes every performance or do they change according to their whims? I can say that the costumes I saw were fitting for each character. The set, by Brian Cebrian, features a lovely painted floor that mirrors the design on the front of the programs.
The show is very clever, at times almost aggressively so. It is a real treat for anyone involved in the theater, particularly writers, composers, and longtime fans of musical theatre. But while the first act is fast moving, funny and playful, featuring songs like “Untitled Opening Number” and “Filling Out the Form,” the second act moves into the conflict of the piece, and sentimental and maudlin territory. Heidi sings a lovely (but not at all funny or clever) song entitled “A Way Back to Then.” It doesn’t seem to fit with what’s gone before.
This is a problem with many films and plays, that the first half or two thirds is the most interesting, because that is when the world of the piece is created, and all the interesting situations are set up, and the last part is when everything has to be resolved and ended. I fully expected to hear a song in the second act called something like “Second Act Trouble,” detailing this very problem. The characters do state that they can’t simply keep adding what has happened to them to the end of the play, because then it would never end. And then, the play ends. I found this unsatisfying because I felt like I’d watched two separate plays instead of two halves of one whole. That, however, is my problem with the show itself, not this production. Director and choreographer Shon Stacy, as well as all involved, should be proud of their interpretation of this script. [title of show] is a fun, entertaining offering from the Generic Theater.
The rest is still unwritten. [title of show] runs at Generic Theater downunder Chrysler Hall through Sunday, September 14. Reservations can be made at the Generic Theater website, or by calling their reservation line at (757) 441-2160. Reservations are strongly advised.