If you’re a student theatre company with somewhat limited resources, but still want to try your hand at a reasonably successful Broadway musical, then [title of show] is arguably your ideal choice. It requires a cast of four—five if you include the musical accompanist—and not much of a set. Nor do you have to work hard to suspend your audience’s disbelief; this particular musical is all about its own creation as a last minute (well, last three-weeks) entry to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Its characters are the show’s writer Hunter Bell, composer/lyricist Jeff Bowen, and two actress friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff. Arranger and musical director Larry Pressgrove also gets a few lines here and there.
“Director Charlie Ralph has successfully brought together a tight, compact team”
This “meta” self-referencing—at one point, the cast admit that a proposed dream sequence is “self-indulgent bullshit”—is the source of much of the show’s humour, but it’s also how its creators build up to their serious point. As we see the show on the increasingly rocky path towards Broadway, friendships are tested and the focuses is on the importance of artistic integrity in the face of “Change It/Don’t Change It” investors and focus groups. The conclusion is that Hunter and Jeff would prefer their show to be “nine people’s favourite thing than a hundred people’s ninth-favorite thing”.
Of course, this amateur production of [title of show] lacks the original’s USP; the cast on the Bedlam stage are not literally stuck in a show playing themselves. However, this doesn’t really matter; an energetic, bright-eyed Ewan McAdam immediately engages as Hunter, and is well-matched by a somewhat more restrained performance from James Strahan; the pair bed down easily as the double act the show needs. This isn’t to ignore the excellent performances from Lucy Evans and Eleanor Crowe as Susan and Heidi, both self-aware of their roles as supporting characters in the show, who only get one chance to “hijack this page of the script” when Hunter and Jeff are in the wings supposedly networking with potential producers. Will Briant, meantime, provides excellent keyboard support as Larry, stuck at the back of the stage unsure if he’ll even be allowed to speak without union permission. Director Charlie Ralph has successfully brought together a tight, compact team; if the show sags somewhat in the latter half, this isn’t because of those on stage, who are fully engaged with their characters and successfully “land” their punchlines with real impact. But—yes, there’s a “but”—they’re not helped by the sound balance. Briant on electric keyboard is amplified; the performers are not, meaning their vocals are often swamped by the accompaniment. Given the “intimate” proportions of the Bedlam Theatre, it might seem odd to mic up cast members barely 12 feet from the rear seats, but given the strength (or otherwise) of their vocal projection, it would have helped ensure some clarity to their vocals.