Two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical - it might not sound like much of a plot, but Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell's autobiographical [title of show], brilliantly staged by the Old Joint Stock Theatre's in house company, is actually a witty and clever love letter to the creative process, where a writer faces so many challenges to write something truly original. From inner "vampires" to a lack of $10 million, Jeff and Hunter, also the main protagonists, must overcome them all to finish their show in just three weeks in time for the New York Music Festival, with the help of jobbing actor Heidi,and the wacky Susan, who gave up her career to become a "corporate whore". ToS's charm lies in the fact that although their show grows out of all proportion, and our budding creatives struggle to adjust, they fundamentally do not change, and stay true to themselves and their work.
Despite being self-referential almost to the point of obsession, this is a major device for the the show's funniest moments, where the fourth wall isn't so much broken down as blasted apart.
Any questions you may have about how a 5-man show with only four chairs and a keyboard as a set could possibly have reached Broadway are all dealt with in the show itself. Some of this may have been lost in translation, were it not for the outstanding comic timing of the faultless cast.
George Stuart's Hunter is simply magnificent. His lines were some of the funnest of the night and they were delivered to perfection. His soaring tenor gave richness to the company numbers and his turn as Blank Paper was memorable. Cecily Redman was equally brilliant as Heidi, and her rendition of the nostalgic A Way Back To Then was just beautiful.
Liam Sargent's Jeff was the perfect counterpart to Hunter. Where Hunter is lazy and insecure, Jeff works constantly to bring his show to life and never loses faith in it. Sargent's performance was equally standout with faultless vocals and wonderful timing. Aimee Fisk was superlative as Susan. Despite being more of a character role, she delivered every line and every note with utter conviction and came across beautifully as the slightly weird friend we all have.
All four of the company worked seamlessly with each other. Their comradeship was palpable and you cared for each character, not easily achieved in a 90 minute show.
Final mention has to go to Jack Hopkins, MD and the onstage keyboard player Larry. Though sporadic, all of his lines were hilarious and helped establish the paradigm of a show about a show. The music in the whole piece was of a professional standard and would not be out of place on the West End.
ToS is a triumph from start to finish and should be seen by theatre nerds and music lovers alike. I have been lucky enough to see OJSMTC a few times. I look forward with anticipation to their next.
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