[Name of award]
[title of show]
Artisan Theatre1901 Del Paso Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95815
New Helvetia Theatre’s latest offering is slyly subversive, starting with the title: [title of show], (complete with lowercase and brackets). This quirky, funny musical manages to be a sweet homage to (and a gentle mocking of) musical theater. In the time-honored manner of a play within a play, [title of show] is actually four actors playing four actors playing four actors. It’s less confusing than it sounds; half the fun comes in recognizing the clever concept as it slowly unfolds, and half the fun is in the clever dialogue and musical numbers.
It’s the type of offering we’ve come to expect from this still relatively new theater group, whose aim is to offer up the offbeat and unusual. New Helvetia artistic director and visionary Connor Mickiewicz knows how to deliver with eccentric and thought-provoking musicals and talented performers, as seen in his past productions of Tick, Tick … Boom! and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
[title of show] explores all the aspects of putting together an original musical theater production, from the idea’s inception through the painful creative process, then onto rehearsals, performances, reviews—and the endless wait for discovery by the bigger entertainment world. Along with the fun format and amusing songs, the musical also has great current pop-culture and theater-insider references, as well as the peek behind the curtains of staging a show.
It begins with friends and wannabe playwrights Jeff (played by Mickiewicz) and Hunter (Jerry Lee) as they talk on the phone about their mundane lives, and how they really should be working on their dreams of making it big in the theater, but instead the evil triad of malaise, procrastination and self-doubt stands in their way. But a musical-theater festival and competition, a mere three weeks away, lights their creative fires and unveils their neuroses. Then we discover that the opening scene is actually the first scene of the play within the play. This expectation tweaking is the fun aspect of the show, which breaks down the fourth wall and lets the actors share winks with the audience about their own production.
The writer-actors are joined by two singer-dancers they’ve recruited—Heidi (Kiera O’Neil Anderson) and Susan (Melinda Parrett)—and keyboardist Larry (Graham Sobelman, local cabaretmeister, who provides the musical accompaniment).
The musical numbers are humorous and charming, though the tunes are on the less-than-memorable side, a reflection of the Broadway musicals that are parodied throughout. Under the direction of Erin Island, the dialogue is fast-paced, witty and self-deprecating; Lee and Mickiewicz have a genuine comedic chemistry.
The only downside is a lag of energy toward the end, mainly due to the show’s length—the musical would work better if final scenes had been shortened and the end trimmed a bit. All five cast members bring their song, dance and comedic talents to the table, and work wonderfully as a cohesive unit (though Parrett needs to project her voice, which gets lost in some of the numbers).
[title of show] is thoroughly entertaining and another winning feather in New Helvetia’s cap.