Written by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Directed by Brian Anderson. A Wide Eyed Production presented by No Bells and Whistles in association with Presentation House Theatre. At Presentation House Theatre on Thursday, September 23. Continues until October 9
Go play inside. As the season changes, Gutenberg! The Musical! is an excellent reminder of the fun to be had indoors.
The premise of the show is that Doug (Nathan Clark) and Bud (Toby Berner) are doing a producers’ audition of their new project. They dream that, with the right backing, they can take Gutenberg! The Musical!—which is about the inventor of movable type—all the way to Broadway and a full production that will include real dirt streets. In the meantime, they play all the parts, literally changing hats as they go: they don and doff a formidable number of baseball caps that are labelled with the monikers of their characters, including Johann Gutenberg and his love interest, Helvetica, who is slyly named after a font.
Doug and Bud explain that virtually nothing is known about Gutenberg, so the story they’ve written is historical fiction, which Bud defines as “fiction that’s true”. But really they just make stuff up: in their version, Gutenberg is a winemaker who suddenly realizes that he can use his wine press to print Bibles.
This is all a ripe excuse to have absurdist fun with the conventions of musical theatre. Bud has written the score, which includes everything from rap to boogie-woogie and pretentious art songs.
Matt Grinke makes an excellent one-man band on keyboards. And it’s a treat to watch Clark and Berner throw themselves into the wacky material. Berner’s Bud is so innocently enthusiastic that he reminded me of a little kid I once saw dancing on the steps of a post office, just givin’ ’er for passersby. It takes a whole lot of skill for an adult performer to do that. As Doug, Clark has a weightier presence, which he exploits with fantastic deadpan delivery, even when he’s shimmying like a demented Elvis. Neither of these guys sings like Robert Goulet, but we shouldn’t expect them to. It’s fun—and part of the point—when they squeal off-key trying to hit the high notes.
Like its sweetly flawed characters, the musical itself falls a bit short: individual moments are tremendous, but there’s not always enough story or satirical depth to hang on to, so you sometimes find yourself waiting for the next joke. Fortunately, the next joke always comes.