You have your eyes on the prize. You are so intent on making it that you can figuratively taste it. That is what confronts the couple of guys at the centre of Title of Show. They’re Hunter (Obed Wallis) and Jeff (Noah Janssen) … out to make it on Broadway. To that end, with just three weeks to cut off, they decide to submit a new work to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
Mind you, they have no idea what that offering is going to be. They are confronted by a blank page and, at first, a case of writer’s block. It is author Hunter who determines that their entry should be based upon their current lived experience, which composer and lyricist Jeff goes along with.
They are joined by a couple of their pals. Heidi (Kathleen Amarant) has been in the biz since she was a kid, but has proven best at landing understudy to understudy roles. Susan (Gemma Caruana) has all but given up on securing any theatrical gigs and has taken a full-time job that she doesn’t like.
Title of Show (by Be You Productions) showcases their collective journey in trying to get their show produced … and, ultimately, to seeing it realised on Broadway. Suffice to say, there are more than a few bumps along the way. At one point, the girls are suspicious of one another. At another, the boys are at each other’s throats.
There are also many moments of fun, laughter and love of their art form, without any guarantees of success – in fact, far from it. Still, they persist. The title of this musical is drawn from the words on the entry page to the New York Musical Theatre Festival the boys are tasked with filling out, namely Title of Show … Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical in 2009, the music and lyrics were conceived by Jeff Bowen, with a book by Hunter Bell in 2004.
In the past month I saw the cinematic adaptation of the musical Tick, Tick … Boom! which covers similar ground. The original musical upon which it is based is by Jonathan Larson. It was first performed Off-off-Broadway in 1990. In that case, a single protagonist is intent on making it on Broadway and he has a severe case of writer’s block.
Title of Show has several creative musical numbers, which punctuate the dialogue and propel the story arc. I particularly warmed to Change It, Don’t Change It and Awkward Photo Shoot (part of a montage) and Nine People’s Favorite Thing. Phone messages often mark the opening of new scenes.
The set is about as spartan as one can get, namely four mismatched chairs, meaning you focus on what is being said and sung. The juxtaposition of the two male characters works well. They’re mates, but they are decidedly different in their approaches to life. Obed Wallis and Noah Janssen bring those differences to the fore.
In fact, the cast does the material justice. For me, Kathleen Amarant was the pick of the singing voices. Her notes were strong and pure. Gemma Caruana displays a dry sense of humour, ideally suited to her part. She gives the narrative a lift when it’s needed. They are accompanied on a keyboard by musical director Larry (Sol Summers), who is “gifted” a handful of lines. Be You Productions’ artistic director is Bradley Dylan and holistic director is Daniele Buatti.
At 90 minutes without interval, Title of Show felt stretched. That had everything to do with the way the first half was written. After an opening number about what it takes to create a musical, we move to the two buddies chatting about what to collaborate on next … and the piece takes off from there.
However, I thought the musical needed more substance … more twists … in the first 45 minutes. It felt laboured until the outcome of the lads’ submission becomes known, after which the production pivots to be far more engaging … and dramatic. It was from that point that my interest piqued. I was looking for more of the same after the initial set up.
Please don’t get me wrong, the show is good humoured and not without merit, but for me it wasn’t consistently involving. Title of Show is playing at The MC Showroom in Prahran until 19th December, 2021.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude – theatre review
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Her Majesty’s) – theatre review
- Gilligan’s Island: The Musical (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.