Thursday, March 14, 2013

Best in 'show': Self-aware musical is hilarious, poignant

The word of the day is meta. Definition: a term used to describe a work of art that is characteristically self-referent. Example: "[title of show]," a musical about two writers writing the very musical that the audience is watching.

For a further clarification of the meaning of meta see M&D Productions' production of "[title of show]," which opens Thursday, March 14, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is playing Thursday through Sunday for the next two weeks.

Jeff (Chris Madura) and Hunter (Paul Allen) are a pair of theater geeks in New York stuck bouncing around dead-end jobs. They stumble upon a theater festival requesting script entries and, even though they only have three weeks before the deadline, they decide to write something. As they struggle to think of something to write about, they begin to write about the struggle to think of something to write about.

Soon Jeff and Hunter are joined by their friends Susan (Lia Gilmore) and Heidi (Molly Paven). The show becomes a hilarious deconstruction of the tropes and cliches of musicals. It is also an examination of the creative process which chronicles the quartet's acceptance into the festival, a successful off-Broadway run and infighting as Hunter and Jeff must decide if it is worth compromising their work just to make it on "the Broadway."

Madura and Allen are ideally cast as Jeff and Hunter, and director Ken Martin gets energetic performances out of them. Madura is dryly funny as Jeff, a know-it-all who is constantly correcting Hunter when he misspeaks. Hunter is the more outgoing and perverse of the duo, and Allen has fun with his often raunchy dialogue. Both actors have some great one-liners that they deliver with well-timed precision.

Musical director Rafe Matregrano, who also plays piano and appears on stage as Larry, the largely excluded pianist, has worked hard with the cast. In addition to being truly funny, Allen and Madura have strong voices and really make the songs, well, sing. A highlight, both in terms of singing and humor, is "An Original Musical," in which Allen takes on the role of a jive-talking blank piece of paper.

In smaller roles, the girls initially struggle both vocally and in completely inhabiting their characters. In the scene in which Susan and Heidi first meet, both Gilmore and Paven's line delivery feels stilted and flat and is not an indication of better things to come. As the show progresses, though, Gilmore and Paven's performances do improve and its likely as the show's run continues they'll become even stronger.

"[title of show]" features a fix of self-aware humor, coarse one-liners, low-brow jokes and inside jokes about theater and music. The more you know more about theater, music and the creative process, the funnier the show will be. That isn't to say the show isn't enjoyable if you don't know a lot about any of that as there is plenty of genuine wit in the dialogue and music that just about anyone can appreciate.

But "[title of show]" is more than just a collection of random skits and silly songs. There is also a honest exploration of insecurities that is relatable to everyone, not just creative or artistic people. This is most humorously and poignantly addressed in the song "Die Vampire Die," in which vampires are metaphors for fears and doubts that try to bring you down. The song is sung with equal parts attitude and vulnerability by Gilmore.

On "What Kind of Girl Is She?" Gilmore and Paven sing a duet about whether they're liked by each other or who is favored by Jeff and Hunter. Once again, this is an effective and easily relatable exploration of fears we all have. Gilmore and Paven vocally compliment each other nicely and are stronger together than apart.

Toward the end of the show, the song "Nine People's Favorite Thing" beautifully encapsulates the themes of the show: it is more important to be true to yourself than to compromise who you are to just be liked more or fit in better. This is not a groundbreaking message, but "[title of show]" delivers it in a way that is heartfelt, funny and sincere rather than trite and preachy.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at 662-7591.


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