Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gutenberg! The Musical! (★★★★)

by Scott Brown and Anthony King
Directed by Erin Hutchinson
Musical director Joshua James Webb
Performed by Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones
Hellenic Club, Stirling St, Perth
Until November 5

Holland Street Productions are the tiny Perth theatre company that can. Their hits include the 2014 Perth Fringe winner Point & Shoot that went on to collect gongs at the Sydney and Brighton fringes, this year’s rambunctious Dr Felicity Rickshaw’s Celebrity Sex Party and the wonderful café confessional, Fuck Decaf.
Which makes their decision, despite the in-house writing heft of Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods, to take on a decade-old Off-Broadway pocket musical especially interesting.
It doesn’t take long to see why they did it. Gutenberg! The Musical! is a sleek, high-octane vehicle, and Jones and Andrew Baker keep their pedal to the metal for all its 85 minutes (plus a 20-minute recuperative interval that the audience needs as much as the performers).
Bud and Guy, two less-than-gifted writers, pitch their idea for a musical about, of all things, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. Finding little information about Gutenberg on Google, they resort to a historical fiction (“fiction that’s true”) set in the happy but horribly filthy German town of Schlimer, inhabited by characters like his straw-blonde, half-witted assistant Helvetica and the Satan-worshipping Monk (both his name and profession).
As Bud and Guy are pitching in their street clothes, they identify the characters by putting on caps with titles like Drunk Man, Beef Fat Trimmer, Anti-Semite (a recurring gag), Rat and Whore on them. There are lots of caps – at one time they are pegged to a clothesline to form a Chorus Line – and they are swapped in a dizzying whirl of action.
Meanwhile, Bud and Guy use and misuse every convention of musical theatre – the happy opener, the rocking first act closer, the romantic ballad – in a series of adorably ridiculous songs (Joshua James Webb’s keyboard accompaniment is elite) as we thunder towards the inevitable happy ending.
If I’ve got an issue with the show, it’s only that it’s almost too fast, too jam-packed. Much as I enjoyed it – and that was very much – I was a little relieved when it was over.
That small discombobulation aside, Gutenberg! The Musical! is another winner from this great little troupe. I wouldn’t miss it for quids.

This review appeared in The West Australian 29. 

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