Cache Critic’s Choice: Utah State debuts theatrical oddity

The cast of the USU Theatre Arts production of [Title of Show] are (from left) Brian Bohlender, Madison Archibald, Camie Randall and Bryson LaBar. (Photo by Andrew MacAllister, courtesy of USU).

Cache Critic’s Choice is a continuing feature on Cache Valley Daily highlighting local theatrical events and live entertainment.

LOGAN – The ongoing production of the musical [Title of Show] by the Department of Theatre Arts at Utah State University is an entertaining opportunity for local audiences to see a theatrical oddity.

[Title of Show] is known in theater circles as “that strange little musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.” With a tiny cast and no set requirements other than four chairs, [Title of Show] is an ideal vehicle for a collegiate theater program to highlight the talents of its students.

The backstory of [Title of Show] is that two friends – playwright Hunter Bell and composer Jeff Bowen – set out in 2004 to write an original musical in just three weeks for submission to the inaugural New York City Musical Theatre Festival. When the would-be collaborators realized that the creative process they were involved in was more interesting than any story they could dream up, [Title of Show] became a comedic chronicle of their own trials and tribulations.

The cast assembled by assistant USU professor Michael Shipley is well-suited to recreating that quixotic project.

As Bell, the real-life playwright of [Title of Show], Brian Bohlender convincingly displays all the doubts and insecurities of a young writer. He plays Bell with a manic gusto that makes the vaguely narcissistic role endearing.

Last seen memorably in the USU production of “Civics & Humanities for Non-Majors,” Bryson LaBar is back as Bowen, the composer of [Title of Show]. Despite a characterization every bit as flamboyant as Bohlender’s, LaBar still makes Bowen the cautious voice of reason whenever the show’s creative process threatens to go too far off the rails.

Madison Archibald plays Heidi Blickenstaff, one of two actresses who collaborated with Bell and Bowen in the development of [Title of Show].  Ms. Archibald provides a big, brassy voice that is perfect for belting out the show’s upbeat tunes.

A newcomer to USU stages, Camie Randall appears as Susan Blackwell, a part-time actress who was reluctantly drawn into the creation of [Title of Show]. Ms. Randall’s performance is delightfully breezy and her sarcastic one-liners are among the few jokes in the script that drew laughs from the opening night audience.

Dallas Heaton rounds out the cast as Mary, a keyboard player who accompanies the show’s songs and is gradually incorporated into the cast of [Title of Show].

Even 15 years after its debut, the playfully absurd high-concept of [Title of Show] still feels refreshingly original. With more than a dozen fast-paced, witty tunes packed into a one-act play, [Title of Show] is indisputably an entertaining musical. But a hilarious comedy? Not so much.

The USU cast tries valiantly to sell [Title of Show] and they are absolutely successful in terms of their acting and singing. But Bell and Bowen were such Broadway nerds that their jokes were a blend of 2004 pop-culture quips and obscure theater history references. That’s too much inside baseball for most audiences and many of the script’s punch lines flew right over the heads of the mostly young people at the Lyric Theatre on opening night.

It should also be noted that [Title of Show] is definitely rated PG-13 for strong language.

The only minor departure that director Shipley has made from Bell and Bowen’s original stark vision for [Title of Show] is the addition of set design elements by Thomas Jennings that cleverly help to illustrate the musical’s gradual evolution from festival to off-Broadway to Broadway productions. A tip of the hat also goes to Bruce Duerden for multi-media enhancements during the song “Monkeys and Playbills.”

Performances of [Title of Show] will continue at the Caine Lyric Theatre on Center Street through Saturday.

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