Review: Get the scoop on creating a musical in clever ‘[title of show]’

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Welcome “[title of show],” the clever little musical comedy about writing a clever little musical comedy and no other subject than itself and the five people creating it.

To put this another way, the manner of telling by Jeff Bowen (book and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (music) mirrors the content, which in turn mirrors the telling, ad infinitum, like an image bouncing back and forth between facing mirrors. It’s a musical about musicals, a paragon of witty sleight of hand.

In performance at the Grey Box, the minimalist production by The Company (a suitably blank name, like “[title of show],” as if to say, “Fill in blank later”) takes mirror-facing-mirror to another level with its bare platform, four chairs and a piano — an even less prepossessing space than off-off-Broadway, where this little show germinated. Thus a musical about daring to write a musical about nothing but writing a musical ascends to an even higher level of witty self-consciousness.

Ultimately, the show went to Broadway. We might assume that’s fiction, but says otherwise. The story ends on the verge of that apotheosis, because it has to end somewhere, but it’s really about theatrical dreaming, for which a bare platform in Lawrenceville is plenty.

The Company, I mean, the company, is made up of Jim Scriven and Chad Elder as Jeff and Hunter (the creators put themselves in the show, because that’s what the show is about, remember?), who then invite two women to join them, Heidi and Susan, played by Jodi Gage and Christine Laitta, who add another level of skill.

In the stage conventions with which “[title]” loves to play, Ms. Gage’s Heidi is the blond ingenue with a touch of sentiment while Ms. Laitta’s Susan is the frenetic, sassier contrast. Mr. Elder’s Hunter is the florid (it goes without saying, gay) master of musical comedy trivia, while Mr. Scriven’s Jeff is the calmer contrast — his day job is with computers.

The essential fifth wheel is Larry, the piano player, played (in a double sense) by Douglas Levine. When the others point out he hasn’t said anything, he replies, “I didn’t have a line until now.”

That’s how the show goes: Something happens, and someone points out that’s now in the show. The opening number is a song about opening numbers; another is made up of titles of failed musicals. Conventions are broken and commented on (often punctuated by Michael E. Moats’ lights). The knowing direction is by Nick Mitchell.

On one hand, you could deplore this as fresh evidence that there’s nothing original left to say except for fresh riffs on what’s already there. On the other hand, why look such a clever 100-minute entertainment in the mouth? It may not have bite, but wit and charm go a long way.

Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.

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