Four actors, four chairs and one keyboard player with just a few lines make up “[title of show],” a musical guaranteed to thrill musical theater lovers.
Diehard fans will delight in the depth and frequency of its Broadway references, yet the clever show — onstage in a local premiere at TheatreWorks — stops short of alienating those who don’t collect decades-old Playbills or haven’t committed lists of Tony winners to memory. (TheatreWorks’ program does include a handy glossary.)
Managing to be delightfully post-modern and classic at the same time, it’s the self-referential story of two gay guys in New York who spend a few weeks in their Hell’s Kitchen apartment writing a musical to meet the deadline to enter a festival competition.
The show’s original New York Musical Theatre Festival version in 2004 (as well as subsequent off-Broadway and Broadway runs) starred Jeff Bowen as the composer and Hunter Bell as the playwright — as themselves.
In TheatreWorks’ effervescent production, local favorite Ian Leonard plays Jeff. He’s joined by Broadway actors Jamison Stern as Hunter, along with Laura Jordan and Farah Alvin as their friends and co-stars Susan and Heidi.
William Liberatore at the back of the stage provides amazingly sufficient musical accompaniment on a single keyboard, and gets a few choice lines in just one of the show’s many amusing gags.
Like all good musicals should, the show begins with the ear-catching “Untitled Opening Number” which literally and figuratively sets the scene for what’s to come.
Each subsequent song charms, from “Two Nobodies in New York” to “I Am Playing Me” to “Filling Out the Form” to a montage that includes “Secondary Characters” and “Development Medley.”
While lovely, and nicely showcasing Alvin’s vocal chops, Heidi’s big ballad, “A Way Back to Then,” drops the show’s ongoing conceit of self-consciousness, oddly weakening its potential power.
As the writing process is completed and the group finds success, the story flags and focus gets a bit fuzzy, but not enough to dampen high spirits permeating the theater.
Keeping proceedings sharp and simple, director Meredith McDonough and her sassy actors achieve the perfect tone throughout this tasty confection.
Unlike many theatrical ventures associated with long development, big-name stars and over-the-top production values — but filled with songs that aren’t catchy and characters nobody cares about — “[title of show]” exemplifies that all it really takes to make a good musical are a few good tunes and smart, sensitive writing.
Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes June 26
Tickets: $24 to $42
Contact: (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org