Gutenberg! The Musical makes history hilarious
Many School of Drama productions have somber themes and leave the audience pondering deep subjects, such as the meaning of time or humans’ relationship with mortality. Gutenberg! The Musical, however, was a breath of fresh air. The acting, as always, was wonderful, the sets were simplistic but representative of the tone of the production, the story was creative yet easy to understand, and the dialogue was absolutely hilarious.
The musical is about Doug Simon, played by junior musical theatre major Harron Atkins, and Bud Davenport, played by junior musical theatre major Erron Crawford, two young and energetic dreamers who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. Unfortunately, they did not realize that there is, ironically, very little historical information to be found about Gutenberg. So rather than choosing a new topic, they decide to write a historical fiction musical and make up the story of how Gutenberg invented the printing press.
Bud and Doug perform the play for the audience in hopes that there may be a Broadway producer in the audience who would like to help put the show on the big stage. However, since the ambitious writers are young and inexperienced, they do not have a cast or an orchestra, so they must play the role of every character. Both actors wore baseball hats with the name of their character written on the top so the audience could always tell who each actor was portraying. Sometimes they wore several hats at once and would take them off or put them back on to change characters. Another way they distinguished between characters was by using different accents. However, these accents didn’t always make explicit sense. For example, some characters had Cockney accents, some had American accents, some were just high-pitched, etc. In addition, Bud and Doug cannot afford fancy props or sets, so everyday items such as cardboard boxes, crates, bicycle pumps, and stuffed cats were used as props.
The limited set and the two-man show, along with senior biology and music performance double major Angela Lo accompanying on the piano, made for quite a spectacle and a really funny performance.
The story itself was just as humorous, filled with characters such as the overly malicious Monk who wants to stop Gutenberg from building a printing press out of a fear that the commoners might be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. The Monk has a stereotypical henchman at his side, and the two wreak havoc throughout the town. The Monk adds another source of humor, especially with lines like, “What a cute cat! I think I’ll name him Satan. I love Satan.” Another memorable character that adds humor to the story was Helvetica, Gutenberg’s young, beautiful, bodacious assistant who pines for him and despairs over unrequited love.
Between scenes, and in place of an intermission, Bud and Doug would break character to explain what was going on to the audience and give a quick preview of what was to come next. This served the purposes of allowing them to change scenes, keep the audience on the same page, and to add even more humor in the dialogue. Also, before the show started, Bud and Doug were seen setting up the stage and arguing about where to place a line of tape on the floor. At first, it was unclear if this conversation was part of the show or if it was real, but the audience laughed listening to the banter between the two characters.
Overall, this production was very enjoyable and definitely worth the free price of admission. In a particularly high-stress time of year with lots of projects and tests piling up, Gutenberg! The Musical provided a happy distraction. Laughter is definitely a great form of stress relief, and this production had the audience laughing from start to finish. The songs were surprisingly catchy, the acting spot-on, the story easy to follow and understand, and the characters engaging. This show proved that a huge cast, an elaborate set, and an orchestral score are not necessary for an entertaining show, and also spoke to the power of a strong story line.