We’ve now officially entered the season of musicals, and if you’re hankering for something in the genre that’s a little cleverer, somewhat raunchier, and way more meta than the usual fare, look no farther than [title of show]. In this feisty, minimalist little musical, produced by Dramatic Repertory Company, composer/lyricist Jeff Bowen and playwright Hunter Bell have written a musical about two guys named Jeff and Hunter, who are writing a musical about two guys named Jeff (Michael Wood) and Hunter (Andrew Sawyer), who are writing a musical.
Some theater-goers, the guys themselves admit, might consider the very premise of [tos] to be “self-referential, self-indulgent bullshit.” But we’re meant to sometimes roll our eyes at the self-consciously adorable exploits of Jeff, Hunter, and their actress friends Heidi (Lisa Van Oosterum) and Susan (Jen Means). Their self-awareness, their pluck, and this super cast’s impeccable, spirited execution make it a pleasure of a show, at once earnest and winking.
The show writes itself in quasi-real time, full of meta-commentary (“Key change!” a song’s own lyrics announce) and its creators’ weirdo imaginings (Sawyer singing as a black sandwich-board guy!). Though sometimes, by nature, exposition-heavy, [tos] is also rich with unexpected metaphors — our inner critics are memorably likened to “vampires.” It dexterously plays with the genre’s conventions, and is unapologetically riddled with insider musical theater allusions.
It’s a niche audience that will get all of that. But Bowen and Bell don’t mind. As they sing themselves, they’d rather be “nine people’s favorite thing than one hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” They’ll be cheered on by anyone who loves the “let’s-put-on-a-show” spunk of musical theater — or who just appreciates watching the synergy of stellar, audacious performers making it happen.
[title of show] | by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell | Musical Direction by Victoria Stubbs | Directed by Keith Powell Beyland | Produced by Dramatic Repertory Company, at the Portland Stage Studio Theater | through June 9 | dramaticrep.org