With their new musical, Doug and Bud can’t see the forest or the trees. They only see a long Broadway run, a sweep of all the awards, eternal fame, the usual...
Somehow they’ve arranged a backer’s audition at a rehearsal studio — i.e., Diversionary Theatre’s main stage. They’ll perform excerpts of the story and songs before Broadway producers (one could be seated next to you!). In effect, the “reading” is about a time when people didn’t read — and about Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden Gutenberg.
Wait. Who? Gutenberg. He invented a printing press, around 1450-ish, and started the print revolution in Europe.
So a big musical, huge cast, mammoth production numbers...about the invention of printing? Yep. Looks that way. But only Doug (Anthony Methvin), Bud (Tom Zohar), and a pianist (Lyndon Pugeda) perform.
For research, instead of consulting reams of sources about the man, they Googled Gutenberg and didn’t find much. So they wrote a historical fiction. “That’s a fiction,” one assures us, “that’s true!”
The duo often explains the needs and demands of musicals. Among other things, Gutenberg’s a crash course on how to write one.
Doug and Bud needed a villain so, along with cameos by a vile anti-Semite (and questionable references to the Holocaust), they invented Monk. He’s glad his flock can’t read (think of the horrors if they could) and vows to trash Gutenberg’s invention.
Musicals also need a love interest. So here’s Helvetia. No, not the font. Unable to read (“it’s all Greek to me”), she crushes grapes for Gutenberg’s wine-press and abets Monk’s crusade against literacy.
Scott Brown and Anthony King’s Gutenberg hearkens back to The Producers’ “Springtime for Hitler and Germany.” But with a difference. Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom want to fail. Doug and Bud are so eager to succeed, they’re goofball giddy.
They perform before a rich red curtain on a bare stage, save for a table stocked with yellow baseball caps. Each has a name — “Drunk #2,” “Anti-Semite,” “Gutenberg.” Change the hat, change the character. They sing and dance, do gestures and skits as if vying for Olympic gold in World’s Speediest Audition.
The songs hit and miss. Some outlast the joke that prompted them. But others, like Helvetia’s mock-suicidal “Might As Well Go to Hell,” are keeper quality. Along with being silly, some bits are uneven as well.
But Gutenberg is much more about surfaces than depths. Two neophyte theaterfolk pour heart and soul into an obviously evanescent dream. They’re as innocent as Mel Brooks’s producers are jaded.
Anthony Methvin and Tom Zohar — and director Kim Strassburger — give the show a crisp, improvised feel, with an underlying polish. Methvin and Zohar work so well together, at times they almost fuse, as performers and as the characters they play. The show flags at times, but Methvin and Zohar entertain at a high level throughout.
Playing through September 4