What happens when a subpar playwright teams up with an inept songwriter to write a show about a historical figure about whom no history is known? You get the musical nobody was waiting for. It’s Gutenberg! The Musical! and it’s currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse under the auspices of The Candy Project.
I’ve long said that you have to be really great at something in order to pretend to be really bad at it and Anthony King and Scott Brown prove that belief with a rollicking, laugh yourself hoarse comedy. This show takes the idea of the story within a story and turns it on its head with what I’ll call a summary in a frame.
The framing device for the show is that Doug and Bud are testing their new musical about Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, in front of an audience with Broadway producers in hopes to get their show on the Great White Way. To that end they give a reading of their show complete with songs and it’s the tops in lows. One wonders what is more appalling: their grasp of history, their knowledge of dialects (German characters speak with British, or Texan in one case, accents), or their complete inability to write, even accidentally, one quality word or song lyric.
Kaitlyn McClincy’s direction conjures some real magic in this production. Her eye for a gag is splendid and she has some beauts such as one of her performers being blasted in the face with water from a spray bottle to emulate a storm or another having a wrestling match with a tarp. She keeps the pace snappy and has molded two top of the line performances with her pair of thespians.
This show really needs a dynamic duo as there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two of them that makes it next door to impossible to separate the performances. Luckily this show has just such a duo in the forms of two of Omaha’s finest comedic talents: Steve Krambeck and Dan Chevalier.
Their chemistry and timing are things of beauty and their energy is staggering as the show is the equivalent of running a sprint. Krambeck and Chevalier’s Doug and Bud really come off like old friends who truly love the theatre, but just lack any particular talent in that area, though Bud can at least write a melody.
Both men get multiple chances to shine as they morph into the myriad characters of their show with some personal favorites being Krambeck’s portrayal of the slightly arrogant title character and the abused Young Monk who believes his love has the power to transform Monk (the show’s villain) into a better person. Chevalier’s Texan Monk and his Anti-Semitic Flower Girl are also massive rib ticklers.
Their “real” selves are also the source for plenty of amusement as Doug clearly has some unrequited feelings towards Bud and Bud is a lonely virgin which reflects in some of his song lyrics.
Both actors are also gifted tenor singers who nail their numbers especially with Chevalier’s renditions of “Haunted German Wood” which tells the origin story of Monk’s evil and was my personal favorite song and “Monk With Me” where he tries to corrupt Gutenberg into giving up his dreams of a literate society. Likewise Krambeck soars with Act I’s rocking finale “Tomorrow Is Tonight” and my other favorite song, “Might As Well (Go To Hell)” which somehow finds the humor in the unsavory topic of suicide.
Tim Vallier’s musical direction is right on the mark as he understands the humor and beats of the songs and they are excellently performed by Sara Collins on piano.
In many ways, this show is theatre in its purest form. No costumes (except for a series of ball caps). No set. No lights. No sound. Just two storytellers and a pianist giving the wonderful gift of laughter in a show guaranteed to chase the blues away.
Gutenberg! The Musical! runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 27. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office or by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.