Little Theatre of Alexandria [title of show]By Betsy Marks Delaney • Apr 28th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Little Theatre of Alexandria
Little Theatre of Alexandria, Alexandria, VA
Through May 14th
90 minutes without intermission
Reviewed April 24th, 2011
I have been dying to review [title of show] since I first saw it at the Vinyard Theatre in NYC in August of 2006, just prior to its second closing off-Broadway. This meta-musical can’t get much more theatre-about-theatre. The premise: Two guys decide to write a musical for the New York Musical Theatre Festival with a scant three weeks to deadline. They decide to write their musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. Confused yet? By the end of [title of show] you won’t be.
[title of show] is a love letter from Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) to every artist in every field, and to people who aren’t considered artists at all but who create nevertheless. From the very first song to the very last note, the show describes the collaborative process of creativity, its flaws and pitfalls and just how hard it is to be original and to be willing to put it out there for everyone to see. The show is an enormous leap of faith, coupled with shrewd marketing and a certainty that the theme speaks to everyone who sees it, which it should. Creativity isn’t limited to art alone.
Die-hard fans of the show have snatched up copies of the CD (available through Amazon.com) and know the songs by heart. If you’re one of those, you might be surprised to notice some differences between what you hear on the CD and what you’ll see onstage. That’s because the show (unsurprisingly) has gone through some changes since the CD was created in 2006. These changes were necessary to carry on the premise of the show, that everything happening to these playwrights will also happen in the script, as it moves from its origins at the festival to its run at the Vineyard all the way through to the opening of its all-too-brief stay on Broadway. Since becoming a Rodgers and Hammerstein property, the show has seen near monthly openings throughout the country by both professional and community theatres alike.
One of the interesting (and possibly disturbing) aspects of seeing this show in its current incarnation is witnessing the transition from the original (and self-named) cast to actors who must interpret the roles of Jeff, Hunter, Susan and Heidi. And here’s the awesome part of Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production: Michael Kharfen (Director), Francine Krasowska (Musical Director), Catherine Oh (Choreographer), Scott Harrison (Jeff), Josh Goldman (Hunter), Anne Marie Pinto (Susan) and Sharon Grant (Heidi) get it. All of it, from opening curtain to final note. More than that, they manage in the course of the 90-minute show to take the show and make it theirs.
In “An Original Musical” (by far the raunchiest song in the show) Hunter and Jeff take on originality and the pitfalls of avoiding duplication even when starting from scratch. “Monkeys and Playbills” is a dream-sequence homage to the musicals that have gone before. “Die Vampire Die” is Susan’s gift to every aspiring creator who doubts his or her creation. In it she implores us to drown out the voices that criticize or denigrate creativity. “Change It, Don’t Change It” takes both these themes and gives you a clear picture of how easily the vampires can get you to doubt your work, even when you know you should ignore them. Heidi’s “A Way Back to Then” becomes a bittersweet reminder of how the show got off the ground in the first place and why it is so important to stick to the dream. The whole cast’s “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” is an echo of the marketing effort that saw the show to its eventual Broadway opening, and a part of why I’m writing this review. I’m certainly one of the “nine.”
Ken Crowley’s set seems deceptively simple, with four mismatched chairs, a keyboard (for Krasowska) and a couple of rolling flats. Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting design and Alan Wray’s sound design enhance the mood admirably. Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley’s costume designs are contemporary and appropriate.
Of note: [title of show] pulls no punches in its frank language. The show portrays professional actors in contemporary New York City and this is pretty much how they talk up there. Hunter and Bell are openly gay characters and the “f-bomb” is dropped a lot. Directors sometimes struggle with scripts like these because they worry about offending their audiences. It becomes clear during the telling of the story that removing or softening the language guts the characters, and so better to be forewarned and see the show for what it is: an extraordinary window into the struggle for creativity, warts and all. [title of show] is fine (and ought to be required viewing) for theatre-aspiring teens, and is also okay for older kids, but may be inappropriate for younger audiences. There is a brief use of a strobe light during the performance.
Simply put, [title of show] is about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. But it’s also more. It’s about the challenge of making art, molding and sometimes compromising an artistic vision, maintaining friendships and holding on to dreams. Written with intelligence, humor and heart, [title of show] portrays four slightly neurotic theater people on a journey from idea to inspiration as they try to reach that pinnacle of theater: Broadway. [title of show] embodied the Babes in Arms line “let’s put on a show” as the little show that could.
In an age of musical theater where bigger is better, a show with four people and four chairs seemed like a long shot for success when Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen started writing in 2004. But this little show has a lot going for it. It is a joyous celebration of musical theater-not only the hits, but the flops as well: Look around the theater and the lobby and you’ll see posters and playbills from many of the shows, some obscure with only a single performance, mentioned in [title of show]. It celebrates collaboration with all its ups and downs. Writing, painting and composing music can all be done by oneself, but theater requires a community to create it. It is a character piece in the true meaning of that phrase. These four people overcome barriers and detours and achieve break-throughs with joy, frustration, hope, anger and laughter-in other words, the human spirit. And we all can find ourselves and have fun in that journey.
I thank the board members of the Little Theatre of Alexandria for their support and the opportunity to direct here. I am deeply grateful for the commitment of so many people without whom this production would not have been possible: a fabulous, spectacularly gifted foursome of Anne Marie, Josh, Scott and Sharon, who make acting, singing and shmancing effortless and so much fun; and an exceptionally talented creative team: Ken and Patti’s spot-on lighting, Alan’s inventive sound, Jean and Kit’s fashion-forward costumes, Andrea and Rebecca’s delightful collection of props and set dressing, Ken’s clever set, Chris for building it nearly singlehandedly, Mary’s graceful painting, and Russ’s ingenious engineering. For every performance, I greatly appreciate all the crew for their hard work. I also thank my brother Stephen for his help researching those obscure play-bills. I was so fortunate to have a dream team to make all the pieces fit together: Leighann and Marg, stage managers extraordinaire, the beautiful Cathy for her wonderful shmancing and support, the maestro Francine for her impeccable ear and generous smile, and Mary Beth and Pat for their tireless dedication and excellence.
–Michael Kharfen Director
Photos by Shane Canfield
Cast (in order of appearance)
- Jeff: Scott Harrison
- Hunter: Josh Goldman
- Susan: Anne Marie Pinto
- Heidi: Sharon Grant
- Musical Director/Pianist: Francine Krasowska
- Producer: Mary Beth Smith-Toomey
- Assistant Producer: Patricia Bradford
- Director: Michael Kharfen
- MusicaI Director: Francine Krasowska
- Choreographer: Catherine Oh
- Stage Managers: Leighann Behrens, Margaret Sooros, assisted by Charlie Dragonette, Marshall Smith
- Set Design: Ken Crowley
- Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
- Costume Design and Construction: Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley
- Sound Design: Alan Wray, assisted by David Correia, David Hale, Anna Hawkins, Bill Rinehuls
- Set Construction: Chris Feldmann, assisted by Jim Hutzler, Clarence Parrish
- Set Painting: Mary Hutzler, assisted by Luana Bossolo, Bobbie Herbst, Jim Hutzler, Jayn Rife
- Set Decoration: Rebecca and John Johnson
- Master Electrician: Eileen Doherty, assisted by Jim Hartz, Elizabeth Herbst, Rachel Lau, Pam Leonowich, Doug Olmsted, Nancy Owens, Richard Schwab
- Properties: Andrea Berting, assisted by Luana Bossolo, Patricia Greksouk, Claire Rhode, Margaret Snow
- Wardrobe: Nicole Zuchetto, assisted by Rachel Alberts, Barbara Helsing, Bobbie Herbst, Margaret Snow
- Makeup and Hair: Andrea Berting
- Rigging: Russell Wyland
- Photographer: Shane Canfield, assisted by Bobbie Herbst
- Audition Table: Andrea Berting, Joanna Henry, Sandy Kozel, Katherine Ward
- Double-Tech Dinner: Frank D. Shutts II, assisted by: Joanna Henry, Michael Toomey
- Opening Night Party: Michael Toomey, Russell Wyland, assisted by Lloyd Bittinger, Lesley Buckles, Kath Dillaber, Marian Holmes, MYKE, Frank D. Shutts II
- Business Manager: Virginia Lacey
- Box Office Manager: Tina Barry
- Legal Counsel: Brian T. Goldstein, Esq.
Disclaimer: Little Theatre of Alexandria provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/6499.
Betsy Marks Delaney is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.