Friday, May 2, 2014

'Gutenberg!' delivers all the musical satire that's fit to print

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2014 at 5:37 PM

SHOWSTOPPERS: Bud Davenport and Doug Simon (George Faughnan and Rene Dellefont) in Gutenberg! The Musical!
Audiences don't always get to see some of the most exciting moments in the theater. Sometimes an audition scene or a bare bones reading of a play can generate more electricity than the finished product. One of the best things about the movie Saving Mr. Banks how it conveyed the crackle of the rehearsal room as Mary Poppins' composers sang future classics around a piano.

Dad's Garage Theatre's Gutenberg! The Musical! exploits a similar situation for comedic effect along the lines of Waiting for Guffman. Two aspiring creators of musical theater, Bud Davenport (George Faughnan) and Doug Simon (Rene Dellefont), present a "reading" of their new show, performing all the parts with simple piano accompaniment. Bud and Doug sing, dance and explain their preposterous choices with the misguided certainty that a Broadway producer will eagerly snap up their show.

Throughout the show, Bud and Doug reveal only the most superficial understanding of successful musicals, to say nothing of basic history. That they rhyme "Gutenberg" with "darn-tootin'-berg" and "sure-as-shootin'-berg" conveys their musical acumen. Thus Gutenberg! The Musical! takes a hilariously loose, fanciful approach to Johan Gutenberg and the creation of the printing press. As Bud explains, "What is historical fiction? It's fiction - that's true."

Thus, the fate of 15th century Europe rests on the ability of Gutenberg (Dellefont) to turn his grape press into a printing press and cure illiteracy. Gutenberg's lovelorn assistant Helvetica (Faughnan) laments her ignorance while stomping grapes in a solo that the creators identify as an "I Want" song. Faughnan also plays an evil monk who wants to keep Bibles out of the hands of the unenlightened masses (a detail with some loose historical reality). Will Gutenberg be a hero to his time or a martyr to the forces of evil?

Held at 7 Stages Back Stage, Gutenberg!'s set features shelves of caps, labelled with names like "Drunk," "Friend" and "Anti-Semitic Flower Girl," for Dellefont and Faughnan to play all the roles. For the big numbers, they might wear multiple caps in a stack on their heads, singing one role's line, casting off one cap and switching to the next. Like 2012's The Revengeance, Gutenberg! presents a high-speed, quick-change challenge to two actor's stamina and versatility.

Compact Dellefont and lanky Faughnan make natural comedic foils. Dellefont radiates a kind of blindly optimistic energy, while Faughnan conveys more of a sly, bad-boy instinct, as well as moments of live-wire unpredictability. He brings plenty of zest the Evil Monk's origin song "Haunted German Wood." Both performers play up a hammy would-be stars desire to milk a song's final note for all its worth.

Directed by Justin Anderson and written (in real life) by Anthony King and Scott Brown, Gutenberg! The Musical! is definitely a "meta" show, less about itself than the process of its creation. Nevertheless, Faughnan and Dellefont's ever-changing performances don't conceal the affection they clearly feel for Bud and Doug. The audience tends to laugh at and not with the creators of Gutenberg!, but also feels just a little embarrassed for them.

Gutenberg! The Musical! Through May 10. Dad's Garage Theatre. 7 Stages Back Stage Theater. 1105 Euclid Ave. Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m. $12.50-20.50. 404-523-3141.

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