Be simultaneously charmed, offended, and amazed at Gutenberg! The Musical!

by Gretchen Wirges

Carson Wright as Bud and Tyler Wright as Doug. Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

Carson Wright as Bud and Tyler Wright as Doug. Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

Weird.
Irreverent.
Meta.
Nerdy.
Genius. 

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 Wright as Bud and Tyler Wright as Doug. Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

Carson Wright as Bud and Tyler Wright as Doug. Photo courtesy of the Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company.

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.

 

Tucson Welcomes a New Theatre!

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Filling a gap in the Tucson theatre community: Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company opens this August!

by Leigh Moyer

SAPAC logo+wordmark

Tucson has theaters that focus on classic works, theaters that focus on contemporary works, theaters that focus on family-friendly, alternative, and new works. And while many of these theaters feature musical theatre productions during their season, Tucson has had few theaters dedicated just to presenting a full season of quality musicals. Until now.

I sat down with the founders of Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company (SAPAC) Kelli Workman, Artistic Director, and Danielle Wright, Production Manager, to talk about musical theatre and starting a new company in Tucson.

“We’re looking to fill the gap between professional and amateur theatre in the community. The long-term goal is to be an equity theatre. We want to give the talent in Tucson the experience of working on high level productions,” said Workman. “We want to add to the effort in bringing quality musical theatre to Tucson. We have a wish list of epic proportions that we want to bring to this community.” 

Each season they plan to bring a classic musical, a contemporary musical, and a concert style musical. Once they are more established, they want to workshop new musicals as well. “We want to do musicals people know but with a fresh concept so that people see something new, see a production in a new way,” explained Wright.

For their inaugural season, SAPAC is bringing stories of origins. [title of show] is about writing a show, the creating – the origin – of a musical. Hot Mikado is an updated adaptation of the piece by the pioneers of musical theatre: Gilbert and Sullivan; it is an opportunity to look at the roots of musical theatre and how artists are fostering growth in the medium. And then, 1776 is about the origins of our country. “For 1776,  we are focusing on nontraditional casting to showcase the breadth and  diversity of experiences in our country,” Wright said. “We’re planning to have a female director to insure a different voice comes through what is usually a very male-centered narrative. ”

Attention to diversity is important to SAPAC. The founding team, Workman, Wright, and Executive Director Dennis Tamblyn, are all white. They are interested in casting against tradition to see more women and people of color on stage and behind the scenes. They are also looking to select shows that show different people and different stories. And, when they work with an older piece, making sure that it meets 2019 expectations. Wright admitted they are still learning how to produce theatre responsibly and justly. “When doing classic musicals there were different social justice standards when they were written. We have to ask ourselves why something is important to the show but also what challenges  need to be considered; what interpretation of the material might encourage a conversation with our audience.”

Each production gives Tucsonans the chance to see and hear the stories of others. “Theatre fosters empathy,” Wright said. “At a Broadway League conference, Lin Manuel Miranda talked about how theater is one of the last things that eliminates the viewer’s power to create their own reality. Audience members with different ideologies all sit in one room and view the same thing. He said, ‘You ask the audience to live outside of themselves. You’re asking the audience to identify with people they might not normally ordinarily identify with.’ Storytelling helps individuals to learn about people who aren’t like them and knowing someone is loving someone.”

“I get really passionate about Broadway shows I love. This season each show is an important part of the season. We not only selected the shows specifically, but the venue that supported the show best,” Workman said. “We are very attached to each show.” From traditional proscenium theater space like that offered by the intimate Cabaret Theater at the Temple of Music and Art to the Demeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park, each show is homed in the best location to help tell the story.

The full season is listed online and below. Tickets are $25.00, with discounts for seniors, students, teachers, and members of the military. Or as a season ticket subscriber see all four shows for the price of three. Tickets can be purchased online, by email at boxoffice@sapactucson.org or by phone at (520) 261-9309.

SAPAC 2019-2020 Season

Southern Arizona Performing Arts Company 2019-2020 Season:

Gutenberg! The Musical! by Anthony King and Scott Brown
August 15 – 25, 2019
Back by popular demand after being nominated for a MAC Award in 2018, this production of the hit two-man musical spoof is a special add-on event to our regular full season of musical productions. Two desperate (and bravely untalented) songwriters perform a backers’ audition for their new musical about Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. With an unending supply of enthusiasm, Bud Davenport and Doug Simon (portrayed by real-life brothers Carson and Tyler Wright) sing all the songs and play all the parts in their hilarious historical epic. Called “A smashing success” by the New York Times, Gutenberg! The Musical! went on to receive Lucille Lortel Award and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for Outstanding Musical.

[title of show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell
September 13 – 22, 2019
Writing a musical is hard! Just ask Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, scrambling to write a musical to submit to a theatre festival. With the deadline looming, and with nothing to lose, the pair enlists the help of their friends Susan and Heidi (with Larry on the piano), and decide to try and create something exciting and new. What you get is four friends writing a musical about four friends writing a musical: meta-theatre at its most hilarious! This Tony-nominated musical is sure to leave you laughing!

Hot Mikado, adapted and arranged by David H. Bell and Rob Bowman
January 17 – 26, 2020
This hilarious and ‘HOT’ updating of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic masterpiece weaves a sharp witted, fun-filled tale where – despite life or death stakes – characters still find time to tap their toes and croon their troubles away. Set in a fictionalized Japan, at a time when outlandish laws harshly sentence people for almost any indiscretion, it is the language of jazz, gospel, and the blues that is spoken most fluently. Hot Mikado thrills by combining traditional Japanese storytelling with the big band sights and sounds of popular American song and dance.

1776 by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards
April 24 – 25, 2020
Long before Hamilton, there was three-time Tony Award-winning 1776 – the original American Revolution Musical! It’s a long, hot summer in Philadelphia, and the Continental Congress is at each other’s throats. The nation is on the brink of revolution – if only our founding fathers can agree to sign the declaration. American history blazes to vivid life in this extraordinary musical, revealing the humor and humanity behind these national icons. With a limited 2-performance run, you won’t want to miss our modern re-shaping (including nontraditional casting) of this hit show!