Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Gutenberg! The Musical!

Early on, a character defines “historical fiction” as “fiction that’s true.” Well, maybe. But if you see Gutenberg! The Musical! in hope of learning about the life of the patron saint of book artists, you’ll be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an excuse for some wonderful theatrical goofiness, then the Act II Playhouse in Ambler is the place to go.

The premise: Bud and Doug present a backers’ audition of their musical, hoping a producer in the audience will take it to Broadway. They do it all with just a piano player and a bunch of baseball caps labeled with characters’ names: Drunk #2, Meat Fat Trimmer, Anti-Semitic Flower Girl, Dead Baby, etc.

The plot: In the sleepy German town of Schlimmer, Johann Gutenberg runs a shop where he makes wine, assisted by the lovely Helvetica. Upset that the townspeople can’t read, he works late into the night to turn his wine press into a printing press. 

The evil monk, afraid of losing power over the town, tricks Helvetica into destroying the press. 

Big Act 1 finale on the (imaginary) rooftops of Schlimmer with (imaginary) laser effects.

Act 2 begins with a spooky Stephen Sondheim ripoff. Then the plot sort of falls apart. (But who cares at this point?) 

Helvetica winds up in a tower torture chamber, Gutenberg burns to death, and someone repairs the press so the townsfolk can learn to read. There’s a surprise feel-good ending, which I won’t spoil.

This co-production of Act II Playhouse and Montgomery Theater is cleverly staged, and is brilliantly performed by Tony Braithwaite and Steve Pacek. They effortlessly fill the stage with characters, caps, and nonsense. 

And you can use the pretext of research to see it--it might even beat an evening in the library.

Performances at the Act II Playhouse through November 4, 2012.

Details and tickets: 
215 654 0200

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