YouTube isn’t just for politicians, amateur stuntmen, and other jackasses to use. It can have more practical applications too, like helping a modest little musical get to Broadway.
From 2007-09, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, creators of [title of show], documented their attempts to get the production to the Great White Way. “YouTube really drove continued enthusiasm,” says Keely Enright, who is directing a Charleston version of the show. “You could see how the musical morphed to get to Broadway.” By showing the choices and compromises they had to make to hit the big time, Bell and Bowen deconstructed the musical while paying homage to it at the same time.
That’s what they’ve been doing since they originated [title of show]. Even the premise breaks down what we expect from the genre, taking a postmodern approach to a well-worn story. In the show, two young New York writers called Jeff and Hunter decide to devise a musical for a festival that will happen in three weeks’ time. They bring their girlfriends in to help them work through the story and put the production together. Along the way, they come up with killer tunes and some realizations about themselves.
In real life, audiences were delighted with the concept and execution of [title of show]. They heartily supported the self-fulfilling idea of a show that wanted to be a hit becoming a hit.
“It’s an amazing story,” says Enright, who admires Bell and Bowen’s sheer tenacity. As artistic director of the Village Playhouse, she knows how hard it is to produce theater. “They got it produced very successfully Off-Broadway, and the YouTube series shows how they wrestled with getting it to Broadway. They ask, ‘Do we take the language out?’ Do they water down the show for the gray-haired set who wouldn’t see it Off-Broadway? These are the kinds of questions we struggle with every day, even in Charleston.”
Enright points to a particular line in a song that goes, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” She asks, “Where do you let your art go? Do you play to a commercial audience or stay true to yourself?”
Enright seems to cover both bases here. [title of show] appeals to her as a fan of musical theater. “I can compare it to the Sondheim musicals we’ve done,” she says, “because if you love the world of musical theater, you’ll love this.” But this is a very contemporary spin on that genre. “It’s a lot more topical,” she says. “It’s set in the world we live in today.”
In the New York version of the show, the writers and their girlfriends play themselves, adding to the meta-theatrical feel. At the Village Playhouse, local actors play the creators. Drew Archer and Robbie Thomas are Jeff and Hunter; Beth Anderson and Emily Wilhoit play Susan and Heidi.
The Playhouse is making this their lead show at Piccolo. Enright thinks that because of its New York pedigree, [title of show] is perfect for festival-goers. “It’s a funny, silly, irreverent, fast-paced, and poignant 90-minute backstage musical story that will suit people used to seeing work on a larger scale than Charleston-based audiences.”
Despite all the witty writing and heavy rehearsals, this production will inevitably have a giddy quality. But it’s not just for musical nuts; anyone who’s had to choose between following their dreams and covering their bills will sympathize.
“There are a couple of numbers that make me cry,” Enright says. “There’s one in particular called ‘Die Vampire Die.’ It’s about what it’s like when you live in a world of self doubt to stay true to your own concept of yourself. It’s hard to stay that course. The writers know what it’s like to live that life and try to live your art and pay the rent. They do an enlightening job of telling their story.”