What would we do without British musicals to spoof? Case in point: Gutenberg! The Musical!, the latest in a series of self-reverential and self-mocking shows. The New York Musical Theatre Festival offering is a smiley, tuneful affair, showcasing two of the most affable, ingratiating, and hard-working actors in the city.
Impish Christopher Fitzgerald and eager Jeremy Shamos star as faux creators of a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, who we're told by Google went from grape press to printing press. He was inspired by a friend who, unable to read a label, gave his baby jelly beans instead of medicine, killing the kid. Gutenberg's antagonist is the evil Monk, determined to keep the Bible out of the hands of the vulgar mob.
Obviously, anything resembling fact is a sham in this evening of "historical fiction," defined as "fiction that's true." Fitzgerald plays Bud Davenport, with Shamos as his writing partner, Doug Simon. Ostensibly we're seeing a workshop put on to entice producers to back a full Broadway production. (Matt Castle is the able musical director and pianist.) Actually the book, lyrics, and music are by Anthony King and Scott Brown. The formulaic score includes a choral number, ballad, charm song, rap, and Latin beat. The purposely dippy lyrics rhyme "read/mead," "stool/fool," and "all/balls." We also get a primer on literary devices ("What is foreshadowing?" "I'll tell you -- later").
Director Dave Mowers matches the idiocy with a demonic pace. Branded baseball caps (for example, "monk," "drunk," "anti-Semite," "beef fat trimmer") differentiate the characters. At times, the indefatigable Fitzgerald and Shamos impersonate several people in quick succession.
It's hard to envision Gutenberg! as Broadway material. What it may need is more stuff about Bud and Doug. As embodied by the overwhelmingly delightful Fitzgerald and Shamos, it's their story we really care about.
Presented as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival
at Sage Theater, 711 Seventh Ave., NYC.
Sept. 22-30. Remaining performances: Wed., Sept. 27, 8 p.m.; Thu., Sept. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 30, 1 and 4:30 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or www.theatermania.com.
Casting by Eve Reinhardt.