Christina Wright

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” Yes! It’s Funny!

The Milwaukee Rep opens its season with a goofy musical at the Stackner Cabaret.

By - Aug 29th, 2012 03:23 pm

Eric Damon Smith (near) and Gerard Neugent in “Gutenberg! The Musical!” at the Stackner Cabaret. Milwaukee Rep photos by Michael Brosilow.

A gut-bustingly hilarious musical about the medieval inventor of the printing press?

That’s Gutenberg! The Musical! exactly. The self-proclaimed “Best Show in the Entire Universe” opened at the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret Sunday, Aug. 24, and runs through Oct. 14. The conceit: Bud Davenport and Doug Simon, two aspiring actors and playwrights from New Jersey, are desperate to score a Broadway contract. They’ve written a rousing musical about Johann Gutenberg, who, in 1450, in Mainz, Germany, invented movable type, the game-changing idea in the printing business.
The guys admit that “details on Gutenberg’s life are scant, so this is historical fiction” as a disclaimer to the wild tale that they spin. It’s improbable, for example, that an evil Monk terrorized Gutenberg and his town in an effort to keep people from reading. But that’s more theatrical than a play about technical developments in printing.

The speak directly to the audience, as if we were potential investors in a Broadway venture. They describe what we’re about to see: A production with 15 musical numbers and a cast of almost 20 characters. The only problem is that, without capital, the creative team and their pianist must cover all the parts. The set is sparse–a single piano and four movable boxes. They promise that, on Broadway, the staging will be much more grand, with a “dirty thatched roof” in every set.

Gutenberg! The Musical!, by Scott Brown and Anthony King, is an incredibly fun and satirical take on big-time Broadway production. Bud and Doug’s plans include a big Act 1 finale with the multitude of characters–the evil Monk, an old black narrator, a sexy maiden named Helvetica, and two drunks, among others. Bud and Doug don various baseball caps, along with superhuman effort, in order to differentiate characters. The show’s songs include Haunted German Wood and Biscuits.

Eric Damon Smith plays Bud, and Rep veteran Gerard Neugent is Doug. They move effortlessly from character to character, testing the range of their voices with the variety of musical numbers. Paul Helm is the pianist, and Laura Gordon directed.

Smith and Nugent bring so much energy and humor to the small stage that it’s infectious. I laughed every 30 seconds. And you might hate yourself for it, but you will leave the theater singing We Eat Dreams. Gutenberg! is so refreshing because it doesn’t take itself or Broadway seriously.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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