Review: [title of show] – Northlight Theatre

| May 13, 2012
Doug Peck, McKinley Carter, Christine Sherrill, Matthew Crowle and Stephen Schellhardt in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)       
      
[title of show] 

Written by Hunter Bell (book)
     and Jeff Bowen (music, lyrics) 
Directed by Peter Amster
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd. (map)
thru June 10  |  tickets: $25-$60   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets  
         
              Read entire review 


     
       

Sophomoric [title] only occasionally endearing

     

Stephen Schellhardt, McKinley Carter, Matthew Crowle and Christine Sherrill in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
Northlight Theatre presents
    
[title of show]

Review by Lauren Whalen 

In 2004, Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen were just two more struggling writers in New York City. When the two musical theatre devotees learned of a festival accepting submissions, they decided to give it a go – even with only three weeks to come up with a full show. The subject? Two guys try to write a musical, with the help of two actress pals and a benevolent, mostly mute accompanist. Named for the space on the festival’s application form, [title of show] eventually ran off-Broadway in 2006 – and with the help of a viral web series, made it to the Great White Way in 2008 and earned a Tony nomination. The show became a work in progress, expanding and changing with the process and experiences of Bell and Bowen. Thanks to a winningly adept cast,

Northlight Theatre’s production of [title of show] makes the most of a script so self-Stephen Schellhardt and Christine Sherrill in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)referential it borders on obnoxious.

The best comedies can make the ridiculous completely sublime, often by playing it straight (witness 2011 Best New Musical Tony winner The Book of Mormon). A few strategically placed pop culture references and winks to the audience will be welcomed with open arms and hearty giggles. In [title of show]’s case, there’s too much of a good thing. Every second or so, there’s another reference to the fact that, yes, we are watching two guys write a musical about two guys writing a musical. “This is our opening number.” “This is choreography.” “This is a joke about a joke about a joke.” The main problem with [title of show]? It doesn’t trust its core audience – musical theatre fans – except when name-dropping obscure Broadway stars and past flops. True cleverness and savvy are obvious: the viewer doesn’t need to be constantly reminded.

[title of show] does have its share of catchy one-liners, such as “I have opinions on things I’ve never seen all the time”, and a funny recurring gag involving drag queen names. There’s even a voicemail cameo by one of Broadway’s It Girls. And the songs and scenes that are played straight and genuine work well: “Die Vampire Die!” brilliantly combats the insecurities of every wannabe artist and “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” sweetly champions creative integrity. If only more of these moments had existed, as opposed to seemingly endless mugging and the writers’ self-congratulations on their supposedly snappy wit.

Doug Peck, Matthew Crowle and Stephen Schellhardt in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Stephen Schellhardt, Christine Sherrill, Matthew Crowle, and McKinley Carter in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)
Stephen Schellhardt, Matt Crowle, Sarah McKinley Carter and Christine Sherill in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Christine Sherrill and McKinley Carter in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) (back) Matthew Crowle, Stephen Schellhardt, (front) McKinley Carter and Christine Sherrill in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)
Doug Peck, Christine Sherrill, Matthew Crowle, McKinley Carter and Stephen Schellhardt in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Doug Peck, Christine Sherrill, Stephen Schellhardt, McKinley Carter and Matthew Crowle in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

On an even brighter note, director Peter Amster has assembled a terrific ensemble: nimble on their feet, quick with dialogue and soulful even in their silliness. Though her delivery is occasionally grating, McKinley Carter interprets insecure office drone Susan with a bawdy flair and plenty of belly laughs. Matthew Crowle is lovably neurotic as writer Hunter, even when the character’s temper and ego threaten to get the best of him. As Heidi, a working actress balancing the desire to originate a role with a need to pay the rent, Christine Sherrill seamlessly blends pensive delivery with exquisitely clear vocals. And Stephen Schellhardt, as the beleaguered but resolute Jeff, brings the impeccable comic timing and proficient hoofing that make his performance the production highlight.

Once a long-term work in progress, [title of show] could still use some work: at its worst, it reads smug. At its best, it’s a fun inside joke and love letter to musical theatre, those who love it, and those who strive to make a living from it. At one point, Hunter worries that the show’s first draft is merely “strung together sketches and novelty songs”. Sadly, he’s right.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

[title of show] continues through June 10th at Northlight Theatre, (North Shore Center for the Performing Arts), 9501 Skokie Blvd. (map), with performances Tuesdays through Sundays.  Tickets are $10-$60, and are available by phone (847-673-6300) or online at Tickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Northlight.org(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Stephen Schellhardt, McKinley Carter, Doug Peck, Matthew Crowle and Christine Sherrill in a scene from Northlight Theatre's [title of show], directed by Peter Amster. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

All photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

artists

cast

McKinley Carter (Susan), Matthew Crowle (Hunter), Stephen Schellhardt (Jeff), Christine Sherrill (Heidi), Doug Peck (Larry, Piano Player)

behind the scenes

Peter Amster (director); Doug Peck (music director); Christopher J. Fitzgerald (set design); Rachel Laritz (costumes); Chris Binder (lighting); Victoria DeIorio (sound design); Rita Vreeland (stage manager); Michael Brosilow (photos)

12-0526

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2012 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, Musical, North Shore Center for the Arts, Northlight Theatre

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.