At one point in his six-minute curtain speech, Spotlighters’ Executive Director and Managing/Artistic Director, Fuzz Roark, gives a telling description of “[title of show].” “It’s about us,” he said, “we’re a little bit narcissistic.” Certainly not all theater people will agree with that self-assessment, but it does provide an interesting (if cringey) glimpse into the worldview of this musical, now appearing at Spotlighters Theatre.
…makes great use of theatre’s tiny, four-poster stage, and the cast is committed, energetic, and talented.
Eighteen years ago, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell decided to tackle the daunting task of creating an original musical from scratch three weeks before the submittal deadline for a theater festival. That’s an absurd turnaround time, even when one has an idea. Trouble was, Bowen and Bell didn’t—no plot, no characters, nothing—so they landed instead on a gimmick: Make the play about themselves, and their process. “I’m trying to write a musical about two guys writing a musical about writing a musical,” Jeff says. He says this in the musical, where the authors are characters, along with a musical director who has very few lines (Equity rules) and two so-called “secondary characters,” actors Susan and Heidi. The approach went way beyond mere “meta.” “[title of show]” doesn’t navel-gaze, “[title of show]” is the navel. The gazers, one supposes, are in the seats? In that sense, “[title of show]” is a puzzlement, as to identifying its audience. So many backstage stories have made for great plays over the years, and we theater folk are an eager market. But “[title of show]” is definitely not “42nd Street.” It’s a whole lot more like that Philip Seymour Hoffman movie “Synecdoche, New York,” which came a few years later. One is tempted to recommend this piece to non-theater makers, perhaps with the caveat “this isn’t how we are!”
Fortunately for Spotlighters, there’s some good material present. Many of Bowen’s songs are very catchy and some are clever. The real save here, though, is in the directing and casting of this production. Director/Choreographer Stephen Foreman makes great use of the theatre’s tiny, four-poster stage, and the cast is committed, energetic, and talented. As coauthor Hunter, Alex Gubler masters both effervescence and angst. Neva Keroglian Sullivan (Heidi) and Natalie Stolurow (Susan) play way, way beyond supporting-role status. Stolurow’s energy is infectious, and her comic timing is deadly. Sullivan is earnest, and completely believable. All three are very fine singers. Mandee Ferrier Roberts is the musical director, and also performs the role of Musical Director. She does a great job. Cast in the role of Jeff, the show’s composer and lyricist, is Nick Cherone. He was an opening weekend COVID casualty, and his role was performed very bravely and well by director Foreman on the day we attended.
“Writing should be easy,” Susan tells us, “like a monkey driving a speedboat.” Obviously, it isn’t, and if it’s important to find a point to this script, maybe that’s a place to start.
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
“[title of show]” runs through February 5, 2023 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For more information and tickets, go online. Masks are required while inside the building.