Two men. One musical. A lot of hats. And a lot of laughter.
This weekend, Basement Arts presents: “Gutenberg! The Musical!”
Written by Scott Brown and Anthony King, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” first appeared as a 45 minutes one-act production, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. Following that, it appeared in the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2005 and 2006.
“Gutenberg!” tells the story of two playwrights, Bud and Doug, who perform a backer’s audition for their newest work — a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. Bud and Doug perform every part in the show and sing every song, using hats to indicate who is switching from one role to the next.
Their collective research into Gutenberg’s life is less than reliable, which makes the play within a play just as absurd as Bud and Doug’s characters outside of their play. The play serves as a parody of what you’d find in a “typical” musical — a big opening and closing number, an excess of drama, energy, dancing and of course, a song about almost anything imaginable.
The show is structured around Bud and Doug’s commentary, or “annotation” sections, with transitions back into the play they are performing. The audience and their laughter adds a different rhythm to the script, which is already packed with humor.
“It’s a technically sparse show, there are barely any lights, there is no set, just two tables of hats with different character names written on them and a piano,” Music, Theatre & Dance senior Graham Techler said, in an interview with the Michigan Daily. “It’s one of those shows that is theoretically not complicated, but is actually very complicated, as we have learned. But in a fun way, it’s a fun challenge.”
The members of this production have been creating visions of the show for a while, and when the proposal was accepted, they were able to start putting ideas into fruition.
“We started piecing together this weird production team, where Barry and I are acting in it, I’m co-directing it with Robert O’Brian, and Anna is assistant directing it, and is here all the time doing blocking and comedy stuff,” Techler said.
Techler and Music, Theatre & Dance Barry Riggins, the Music Director, were familiar with the work, as they had heard from people that it was a piece that they should look into. Anna Garcia, the assistant director, came across “Gutenberg!” in a less conventional manner.
“Graham and I were on a road trip, and we were driving through graveyards in Virginia and to distract ourselves, Graham put on ‘Gutenberg,’ ” Garcia said. “I loved it so much. Once the proposal was accepted, I asked if I could come in and help.”
Garcia is also an improviser and uses her experience to add comedic elements to the scenes, as well as adjust blocking.
Riggins has worked as a music director before, he said, but never while also acting in the musical he is also directing.
“This has been a very unique process, in that I’m on both sides of the table,” Riggins said. “My first love is performing and getting to do both has been very fun. This show is really just an absolute blast. It is a show that in satirizing musicals, it clearly comes from a place of deep love for them — as both Graham and I have.”
Rather than a director staging a scene for actors, Techler and Riggins do both simultaneously.
“It’s five or six people all collaborating on what is happening at the same time. It just works,” Techler said. “Things that would normally not be so good, if you were staging yourself in a musical, somehow become just right for this show.”
Basement Arts offers the perfect platform for this sort of production, Riggins added.
“ ‘Gutenberg’ is a perfect example of a Basement show because it is completely a passion project. It could never be done in a normal University setting,” he said. “The SMTD community, and I think everyone, will appreciate the type of things it is lampooning.”