Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > [“title of show”], A love letter to musical theatre is energetic, but…

[“title of show”], A love letter to musical theatre is energetic, but…

Heather Paton, Tom Zohar, Tony Houck and Karson St. John. Photo credit: Ken Jacques

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO–[title of  show], a love letter to musical theatre is a “witty new musical written by two struggling writers about two struggling writers writing a witty new musical,” according to the show’s press release.

The two struggling writers who wrote the show are Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book). It is in its west coast premiere at Diversionary Theatre on Park Boulevard.

If you like playing “I can name that musical”, and your curiosity piques at the thought of the ‘how to’ of it then hurry over to Park Boulevard and the Diversionary Theatre because that’s where the best seats in the house are for [title of  show] the musical love letter to the musical.

[title of  show] did make it to Off-Broadway and was extended. It also had a shot on Broadway in 2008. As witnessed when I attended the performance at Diversionary, the audience loved it. It’s fun entertaining and very high-energy theatre. 

Here’s the poop. The New York Musical Theatre Fest is just three weeks off.  Jeff and Hunter decide to enter the competition to write a musical. If they can pull off writing a new musical in just three weeks, and it is good enough to be accepted for the festival and then go on to make it on Broadway, they can leave their daytime jobs and become what they dreamed of becoming, successful musical theatre collaborators. 

After several phone calls back and forth about what to write, they decide to write a show about themselves writing a show about themselves. Everything is included in the show, especially everything they say. At first, they question whether or not all of what they say should be included and decide that “Yes”, it should be included.

They enlist their friends and co-stars Heidi and Susan. (Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff played themselves in the Off Broadway show).  Heidi is in showbiz playing bit parts and gainfully employed for the most part. Susan is a talented and sharp musical theatre personality but is more than reticent to try out for new acting jobs so she hangs her star on this show and makes it to all the rehearsals. She has a full time day job as a secretary managing an office. 

Jeff and Hunter have day jobs as well but would like to abandon them for a full time Broadway career. The show progresses, they exchange ideas, leave voice mail messages about their ideas and when the four get together, rehearse the new musical numbers they have come up with. That’s when the fun and the talent kick in. James Vasquez choreographs it all.

The two struggling young writers playing the two struggling young writers are Tony Houck (Hunter) and Tom Zohar (Jeff). Their talent runs deep and their banter so natural, it’s hard not to believe in them. Their friends Susan (Karson St. John) and Heidi (Heather Paton) are less as collaborators and more, well, sidekicks who bring some diversity, talent, added background and drama to the whole scenario.

Rounding out the cast is Tim McKnight as Larry the musical director, straight man with all the talent necessary to be at the keys. He’s on stage throughout behind the keyboards but doesn’t get many lines because he’s ‘union’ and he’s not paid to tawlk. At one point Hunter asks him a question and gets the OK from Jeff, “We’ve worked it out with the union”. (Another inside nod to the differences between union ad non-union contracts)

References to Broadway and New York fly back and forth as if everyone in the audience has the same knowledge. The reviews were great when the show premiered Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2006. Once you start moving away from the hub of the action though the references, some very trivial, (a reference to the song Season’s of Love from Rent came out of the blue from a numbers game they were singing about and a quickie from Wicked, Tavern on the Green, Shubert Alley) get somewhat fuzzy, some are dated and it takes a while to catch up with them. 

In one clever exchange when it was mentioned that the show would open at the Vineyard someone asks, “You mean Martha’s Vineyard?”  The show does have a tendency to be smarmy, self indulgent and full of itself. But it is also clever and loaded with energy and edge. After all it is a love letter to musical theatre and it’s not the first to be written (Kiss Me Kate, A Chorus Line). More than a few of us probably ponder a behind the scenes look at the genesis of a Broadway Musical.

But get used to references we do, because it is after all a musical about the making of a musical based on some successful musicals. Past and present musical theatre stars, some recognizable and some not so much are also included. In one such scene they sing a tribute to all the musical theatre flops by holding up and unraveling an accordion like stack of Playbills strung together, with the names of these musicals on them.

Both Zohar and Houk balance well off each other with Zohar’s Jeff being the more cutting of the two. Houck’s Hunter is the little puppy dog of the two giving way to their friendship rather than giving in to Jeff’s nasty almost biting remarks to him. Both girls are funny and talented with Paton having a voice to die for. She really belts out her “A Way Back to Then”. She and St. John have a duet together that is better and more fun than any one number the men have. (“Secondary Characters”)

This love letter to musical theatre is not the first to be written and won’t be the last. More than a few of us probably ponder a behind the scenes look at the genesis of a Broadway Musical. It’s worth seeing the development as seen through the eyes of those who have been there. One problem though, the play longs for a good ending.

But as most shows go, it finally gets there after they decide they just can’t keep writing everything forever and that there is a time to stop.


See you at the theatre.

Dates: July 8th –Aug. 8th

Organization: Diversionary Theatre

Phone: 619-200-0097

Production Type: Musical

Where: 4545 Park Blvd. #101, San Diego, California 92116

Ticket Prices:

Web: diversionary.org

Davis is a San Diego based theatre critic

  1. Kate
    July 15, 2010 at 11:40 am

    You’ve got the title of the musical wrong, it’s [title of show], not [title of the show]. Lovely review besides that.

    • July 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      thanks, we’ve re-edited and dropped the ‘the’

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