by Gretchen Wirges
That would be my laundry list of words to describe Gutenberg! The Musical!, written by Scott Brown and Anthony King, as the debut production for Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company. It’s the perfect show for the person who doesn’t take themselves, or their love of musicals, so seriously that they can’t have fun exploring the tropes and cliches often found in the world of theatre.
Gutenberg! The Musical! is a musical about making a musical. Writers Bud and Doug (played by Carson Wright and Tyler Wright respectively) perform a whirlwind mock-up of their show about the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg and the kinda sorta, probably made up, wikipedia-sourced journey of his invention. The show starts with Bud and Doug introducing each other, the musical, and the fact that there are Broadway producers in the audience who hopefully will provide a nod of approval and a contract once they’ve seen the audition. As it progresses, Bud and Doug take on the roles of a variety of characters, delineated by a displayed cache of trucker hats emblazoned with the character’s name (Woman, Beef Fat Trimmer, Daughter, Gutenberg, Monk #2, and more).
Carson and Tyler portray their characters with a grounded humor reminiscent of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. There is a beloved earnestness and sincerity that permeates their comedic choices, making them believable and yet ridiculous (in all the best ways). This groundedness is what really sells the rest of the often cliched wrongness of the story they’re trying to tell. Carson has a fantastically confident agility about him that allows him to glide effortlessly between characters both in voice and in physicality. Tyler has a pointed seriousness about him that gives him the unique ability to deliver absurdity with beautiful patience, keenness, and impeccable timing.
Given a suggested PG-13 rating; misogyny, antisemitism, and abusive relationships are just some of the interwoven themes of the made-up musical, but because of the grounded portrayal by Carson and Tyler, and the truth of the tropes of which they’re making fun, I found myself laughing out loud again and again. Okay, there may have even been a snort (or two). Reminiscent of shows like Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, the sometimes shock value of what was being said, was absorbed by the sincerity of the actors’ spot-on delivery and the super clever, word-nerd level lyrics.
Carson and Tyler, billed as both directors and designers on the show, were able to do what few self-directed casts can achieve. Often it’s difficult to step outside of the creative brain to add a critical eye to the overall performance. But this production doesn’t suffer from that difficulty. The choreography is prudent and funny and a well-oiled machine. The finesse they display in telling both stories (both of the writers and the actual musical) while physically shifting hats, props, and each other, was incredibly deft and polished. All of this was accented and made even more magical by the actors’ incredible singing voices and their equally talented musical accompanist, Khris Dodge.
The show is being performed at Unscrewed Theater, known typically for its improv comedy. The sparse black-box style theater made for a perfect backdrop for the show. Lighting was sometimes lacking, but almost gave the overall intention of the show a bit more integrity as it’s intended to be a grassroots, self-produced show. There were a few times when there were props or choreography that took place on the proscenium or floor of the stage when I couldn’t see what was happening. This was only frustrating because I didn’t want to miss any of the action.
Go see Gutenberg! The Musical! Laugh at the jokes, sing the songs, and allow Carson, Tyler, and Dodge to simultaneously charm, offend, and amaze you with their utterly brilliant performance.
Gutenberg! The Musical! plays at Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Blvd., for only one more weekend with remaining shows on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2pm, and Sunday, Aug. 25, at 2pm.
Tickets are $25 general admission; $20 military, students, teachers. For details and reservations visit www.sapactucson.org, email boxoffice@sapactucson, or call 520-780-6119.