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[title of show] – Phoenix Arts Club | Review

Hunter and Jeff are two unsuccessful, impoverished writers of musicals who find out that the New York Musical Theatre Festival are looking for submissions for new musicals. The two friends think this could be their entry into the world of  musical theatre – the problem is they only have three weeks to write one! However, they decide to go for it and create an original piece but they have no idea what to write about. Then inspiration hits them and they decide to write a musical about them writing a musical about two guys writing a musical! And that’s basically the plot of [title of show] which has this odd name because it’s the question at the top of the entry form for the festival and it’s the first thing Hunter and Jeff thought of when they were trying to find a title for the show!

[title of show] at Phoenix Arts Club.
[title of show] at Phoenix Arts Club.
[title of show] is the true story of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell and their journey from collaborating in Jeff’s apartment in New York to this musical about a musical ending up on Broadway. With help from their friends Heidi and Susan, the journey encompassed an off-Broadway production, a podcast on YouTube telling the world that the show had been picked up for a production on Broadway (it hadn’t) and then an actual Broadway production at The Lyceum Theatre; all events that are depicted in the show.

This is meta-theatre at its most meta with in-jokes, references to other musicals such as Into The Woods, and mentions of other Broadway shows. The song “Monkeys And Playbills” uses various Broadway shows and the covers of their programmes (Playbills) in a clever and innovative way. The book from Bell is superb with some great gags such as “But he’s straight” and “I know but so is spaghetti until it gets wet”. There’s also a superb piece of dialogue where Jeff puts Hunter straight (no pun intended) about the proper use of the words “bring” and “take” – a particular bug-bear of this writer! The dialogue throughout has authentic New York smarts and the show sparkles with energy and wit. It’s campy and zingy and although written in 2004, it has a freshness that regular updates over the past 20 years bring to the show. It satirises the world of musical theatre in a way only those who work in it can. The sixteen or so songs from Bowen are superb; there are one or two weaker ones but what musical doesn’t have those?

Using just four chairs (it’s in the script) and a few props, producer/director Taylor Jay has conjured up some theatrical magic. He directs with a deftness that allows the four actors to spread their wings and fly. One minor criticism is that everything was over-amplified which at times made the four performers’ voices sound harsh.

As for those four performers, all of them are superb. Thomas Oxley plays “Jeff” with a vulnerability and anxious, pessimism. George Crawford as “Hunter” is more of an optimist and pushes the show to be a big commercial success. Abbie Burden as “Heidi” plays an actress who keeps failing auditions but she too is determined to make the show work and helps the two writers with her infectiousness – she also has one of the best songs in the show, the ballad “A Way Back To Then”. Mary Moore as the sometimes depressed “Susan” is a real muse to the pair and although she’s stuck in a dead-end job, she doesn’t let it get her down for too long. The fifth member of the cast is “Larry” the accompanist, who on this occasion was Ben Ward. He not only played keyboards superbly but eventually got a few lines of his own, even becoming upset when he was not included in the photoshoot for the publicity material!

This an excellent choice for the Phoenix Arts Club and its cabaret room set-up works perfectly – it’s just a shame it has such a short run. [title of show] is all about the making of a musical but it’s also about friendship and that’s no bad thing in these troubled times.

4 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

George Crawford – Hunter
Abbie Budden – Heidi
Mary Moore – Susan
Thomas Oxley – Jeff
Melissa McCabe – Cover Susan/Heidi
Owen Arkrow – Cover Jeff/Hunter

Music & Lyrics by Jeff Bowen and Book by Hunter Bell
Directed by Taylor Jay
Musical Director: Ben Ward

Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, hear about a new musical theatre festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. With nothing to lose, the pair decides to try to create something new with the help of their friends Susan, Heidi and Larry on the eighty-eight. With the cast in place, Jeff and Hunter begin a conversation about what to write about. Eventually, Jeff suggests they write about what to write about. They make a pact to write up until the festival’s deadline and dream about the show changing their lives. [title of show] — taken from the space on the festival’s application form which asks for the “[title of show]” — follows Hunter and Jeff and their friends on their journey through the gauntlet of creative self-expression. In the span of 90 minutes they write and perform their show at the festival and learn lessons about themselves as people, friends and artists.

[TITLE OF SHOW] is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd.
Phoenix Arts Club, 1 Phoenix Street, London, WC2H 8BU
Tue 2 July and Wed 3 July 2024

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