The Utility Players: The Musical
Reno, NV 89512
“A Utility Player is defined by the ability to do anything, and a musical is the ultimate anything,” says Jessica Levity, the de facto leader of the Utility Players, a comedy variety troupe.
They present a weekly show called the Comedy Cabaret at Studio on 4th. These weekly Thursday evening shows usually feature written sketches, improvised scenes, stand-up routines and the odd musical number or two. But for their Dec. 17 show, the troupe is preparing something unusual: The Utility Players: The Musical.
The musical features 13 original songs and tells the story of a fledgling troupe of comedians, also called the Utility Players, who must come together like Voltron to defeat an evil, frustrated comedian who has stolen all the world’s laughter. The core Utility Players—Levity, Joshua Inwood, Brandon Iron, Erin Slimak, Ian Sorenson and Shane Tolomeo—basically play themselves (or their comic stage personae, anyway). And a few Utility Players In Training, or UPITs—rhymes with Muppet—play featured roles: Joe Garton, a moonlighting high school teacher, dons a creepy carnival mask to portray the dastardly villain, and Ginger Devine plays the troupe’s drag queen fairy godmother. Brittany Brown, Dalia Gerdel and Melissa Henry sing in the chorus, and an enigmatic composer known by the single moniker “Yjovian” accompanies the troupe on keyboards.
The troupe wrote the musical collectively, with everyone contributing ideas for bits and songs. Members all come from different styles of comedy, and only about half of them had any previous experience in musical theater, so it’s a bizarre hodgepodge of different kinds of comedy but unified by its central musical comedy “fairy tale” plot. Yjovian helped the troupe write and arrange the songs.
Tickets for the one-night performance are first come, first served and by donation. Levity says that they expect the venue to sell out, so she suggests an arrival well in advance of the show’s 8 p.m. start time.
Like much of the best satire, The Utility Players: The Musical walks a fine line between outright spoof and loving homage. It’s silly, but also heartfelt. The lyrics of many of the songs don’t shy away from self-aggrandizement. In “I’m Coming Out,” the opening number, Slimak sings, “Having talent wasn’t my choice. I can’t help it I’ve got a great voice!” It’s a funny moment, but, at least during a recent rehearsal, it also seems like she really means it.
Short form improvisations and audience interaction are important parts of the troupe’s usual comedic formula, and they incorporated some improvisational aspects into the musical.
“There’s an exact script,” says Inwood, “but there are parts when there’s no set plan on how we get from point A to point B.”
There are plenty of showcases for the individual talents of the troupe members, but the moral of the musical seems to be that they’re all funnier together than they are individually.
The big finale song is called “We’re Not Gonna Stop,” and its refrain nicely sums up The Utility Players’ humor, their roots in improvisation, and their unabashed naked ambition: “We’re not gonna stop until we’re famous! We don’t care when you say our path is wrong, because the truth is we make it up as we go along!”