Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through January 29, 2017
by R.E. Smith
The Urban Dictionary defines Meta” as “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.” Beginning with the name of the musical itself, Playhouse on Park’s latest production is extremely “meta.” It is the tale of a playwright and composer and their trials and tribulations in crafting a new musical about themselves as they write a new musical (about themselves). With a treasure trove of inside-theatre references and jokes, [title of show] has earned a reputation as a cult classic among theatre geeks. For the casual theatergoer, however, [title of show] also has universal truths to explore concerning creativity, collaboration, and friendship.
|Photo Credit: Meredith Atkinson|
Given the ever-changing narrative that led the production to Broadway, the book can be a bit uneven at times. What works best about this production are the performers. As one music teacher pointed out in the talkback after a Sunday matinee, the four leads had an “impeccable harmony.” With songs running the gamut in style and execution from showstopper to Sondheim, the cast has plenty of opportunities to shine. Standout numbers include the winking “Untitled Opening Number,” defiant “Nine People’s Favorite Thing,” and the empowering, “Die, Vampire, Die”.
Miles Jacoby as “Jeff” the composer/lyricist and Peej Mele as “Hunter” the writer have a wonderful chemistry and uniquely contrasting characters that are sometimes missing in musicals. They are comfortable and playful with each other, and very believable in the give-and-take of their partnership. Ashley Brooke and Amanda Forker as “Susan” and “Heidi” the “supporting characters” also provide a study in contrast and believability as two unique talents looking to make their mark. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has hung out with theater folk that the dialogue is quite profane and bawdy at times. The idea of which even gets its own number “Change It, Don’t Change It,” as the cast struggles to decide if they’re creating art just to please themselves or others.
Masterfully assisted by on-stage musical director/pianist/actor Austin Cook, and four chairs, the cast serves up boundless energy for 100 non-stop minutes in what is, ultimately, a love letter to musical theatre. It is such enthusiasm and love of the material that makes [title of show] enjoyable to watch whether you know who someone like Donna Murphy is or not.