The Theater Barn: 'Gutenberg! The Musical!' -- a wannabe spoof misfires


NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- "Gutenberg! The Musical!" is a wacky -- and not always in a good way -- musical spoof that isn't always clear about what it is it wants to spoof.

The show -- which is being performed with workmanlike skill at The Theater Barn by Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice under Allen E. Phelps' competent direction -- is the creation of Anthony King and Scott Brown, who share joint responsibility for the songs and the book.

Their conceit is a public backer's audition of a musical that is loosely -- very loosely --based on the life of Johann Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press.

The musical-within-the-musical is the creation of two well-intentioned, if clueless, guys -- Bud Davenport (Rice), who has composed the music, and Doug Simon (Varney), who wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics with Bud.

Their desperate hope is that somewhere in the audience is a producer who will become so enamored of their work that he, or she, will option it for Broadway. So, Bud and Doug undertake a stripped-down presentation in which they play all the characters, each of whom is identified by a baseball cap on which is the character's name. The roles include Gutenberg himself, who begins the musical-within-the-musical as a winemaker; his female grape presser, Helvetica, who, pardon the pun, has a crush on her boss; an evil monk who will do anything he can to thwart Gutenberg's plan to convert his wine press to a printing press; the monk's naive assistant monk; and the villagers, who include a pair of drunks and an anti-Semitic flower girl, all of this in a song-peppered non-fact-based story that Bud and Doug cheerfully label historical fiction -- "fiction that's true."

Mason Griffin, the show's music director, does a fine job on piano as Rice and Varney go through their paces in dutiful fashion.

But "Gutenberg! The Musical!" -- both Bud and Doug's earnest mess and King and Brown's presumably savvier creation -- is an oddly crafted, vaguely unsettling show that moves this way and that, as though one bad musical is serving as cover for another.


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