By Barry Reszel
Would you rather be nine people’s favorite thing or 100 people’s ninth favorite thing?
It’s the guiding question and best song in [title of show], the musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, playing weekends through Feb. 21 at Open Door Rep in Oak Park.
And the undeniable answer for this production is Yes. Both, please.
Of course Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen‘s (music and lyrics) quirky [title of show] celebrating artistic integrity, consequences be damned, mostly tries to make the “nine people’s favorite thing” argument. But Open Door Repertory Company’s board, artistic team and splendid young cast simply need Chicagoland’s musical theatre patrons to put this [title of show] into their top 10.
Moreover, these folks deserve it.
Director Ashton Byrum‘s wonderful principal foursome, still waiting for the ink to fully dry on their BFA diplomas, is forcefully talented. Deft pacing, exceptionally strong vocals, nice physical action and just the right touch of well executed choreography combine to put larger stages and audiences in the near-term for Byrum and Jake Morrissy (Hunter), Alexander Ghattas (Jeff), Ellen Fred (Susan) and Dakota Hughes (Heidi).
Accomplished Musical Director Charlotte Rivard-Hoster rounds out the onstage cast as pianist Mary with top-notch musicianship.
All simply costumed and set in Open Door’s nifty 70ish-seat storefront venue on Ridgeland Avenue, the cast pulls every last laugh from this autobiographical tale hastily put together by pals Bell and Bowen for the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004. They starred in the performances at the festival and in its ongoing iterations (off Broadway in 2005 and 2006 and on Broadway for just over 100 performances in 2008), primarily with with gal pals Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff. A full plot summary and history may be read here.
Open Door’s patrons’ notable takeaway from this production are the glorious voices and tight harmonies. The clever songbook particularly highlights the men, and their “Two Nobodies in New York” just after the opening number allows patrons to settle in and be wowed. Other musical highlights include the guys’ “Part of It All,” the ladies’ “What Kind of Girl is She” and the full cast’s renditions of “Die Vamprie, Die!” (an insightful reaction to creativity block) and “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.” In addition, Hughes’ gorgeous rendition of the soulful “A Way Back to Then” is particularly memorable.
At about 100 minutes presented in one act, [title of show]‘s clever premise loses some of its cute lustre as it moves along and the four friends start to bicker. That’s because its festival success created dreams that required “professional considerations” to make Broadway happen. In essence, friends Bell and Bowen traded the desire for their show to be nine people’s favorite thing for the hope of it becoming thousands or millions of people’s ninth favorite thing. And really, who can blame them? Most people would make the same choice.
Knowing most people do many, many things every week, the creatives at Open Door will be absolutely thrilled to have [title of show] among folks’ top 10. A paltry second Friday crowd on Jan. 29 had to be disheartening for this talented group, because they know Rogers Park does not have the Chicagoland monopoly on terrific storefront musical theatre.
Patrons need to find Oak Park in February, where the door is open and talent abounds.
“[title of show]” is presented at Open Door Repertory Company, 902 South Ridgeland Avenue, Oak Park, Fridays and Saturdays through February 21. More information and tickets ($15 – $25) are available online here or by phone at (708) 386-5510.