AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music & lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Presented by TheatreWorks
At the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
Castro and Mercy streets
Mountain View, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"[title of show]" is a musical about two guys writing a musical. In fact, it recreates the process that composer-lyricist Jeff Bowen and book writer Hunter Bell followed on the road to a one-act, 110-minute show that eventually made its way to Broadway and now has its regional premiere at TheatreWorks. And in fact, the two male characters are named after the two creators, while the two female characters are named after the two women whom they asked to join them in the process.

One result is a love letter to the Broadway musical with frequent allusions to hits like "Wicked" and "Into the Woods" as well as a prolonged recitation of flops in one song, "Monkeys and Playbills." The best known of those flops was "Merrily We Roll Along," which seems to have enjoyed a longer lifespan than some of the others.

Another result is an often entertaining though sometimes self-indulgent show, especially in the early going. That's when Jeff (Ian Leonard) and Hunter (Jamison Stern) are just two gay guys trying to eke out a living in show biz in New York without having any clear direction. However, they become more focused when they decide to enter the New York Musical Theatre Festival, whose entry deadline is just three weeks away. That's when they also bring in two actress friends, Susan Blackwell (Laura Jordan) and Heidi Blickenstaff (Farah Alvin), to help them craft the show.

Bowen's songs are mostly up-tempo but not particularly memorable. The two that were received best at a Sunday evening performance were "Montage Part 2: Secondary Characters," sung by the women; and "A Way Back to Then," sung by Heidi.

William Liberatore serves as musical director and the onstage pianist, who has a few lines as a character called Larry. Kate Edmunds designed the barebones apartment set with its keyboard and four chairs. The lighting is by Paul Toben with sound by Jeff Mockus and costumes by Annie Smart.

Meredith McDonough directs the likable cast but allows Stern's Hunter to be a bit too whiny at times. Leonard seems more grounded as Jeff, while both Jordan as Susan and Alvin as Heidi seem to help the male characters stay focused.

"[title of show]" probably will enjoy some continuing life on the regional circuit, especially since it appears to have relatively low production costs (single set, one musician, four actors), but it doesn't seem destined to join the pantheon of musical theater legends.

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