The best 17 shows west of the Hudson are on display in the single “Gutenberg The Musical” at The Dio theater in Pinckney. Brilliantly executed by stars Richard Payton and David Moan, hilariously directed by Steve Debruyne, with musical direction by Brian Buckner, the show is a non-stop laugh-fest the likes of which has not been seen in a very long time.
I can not recommend this show more highly — it’s a slice of heavenly comedy pie that will have you relaxed and highly entertained, and you might leave the theater with your sides hurting a bit from having laughed so hard all night. Five stars.
There are sequences so funny that you haven’t finished laughing before the next big laugh comes along right on top of it —such is Scott Brown and Anthony King’s (Beetlejuice the musical) outrageous book, music, and lyrics.
There’s not much to the concept: two writers/musicans/actors present a “workshop” of their musical, Gutenberg, where they play the cast of thousands, each indicated by a lettered cap (for example Drunk 1 and Drunk 2 in the stunning photo of Payton and Moan above). Having found a dearth of information about Gutenberg on Google, they set out to create a work of “historical fiction” which includes a satan-worshiping monk and his gentle (but dumb) sidekick; a printing press; a beautiful (but dumb) wine-stomper with the subtle name of Helvetica, and all the denizens of the town of Schlimmer, Germany, who are funny, funnier, and funniest (and mostly dumb). There are take-offs of so many Broadway musicals you can’t count them all – and you’ll learn a bit about writing a musical too (like what a “want song” is, along with the most convoluted definition of “metaphor” you’ve ever heard.)
Moan and Payton make the most of these roles, including characters such as the anti-semitic flower-girl (it’s their “purpose” to lend weight to their show), market stall sellers, townsfolk, and even a dead baby (don’t ask – just go watch). Everyone lives in a run-down medieval German town where all the roofs are made of dirty thatch. The show soars above it all (one time literally) and it is an absolute hoot. The actors put on an acting class in clowning, singing, instantly transforming from one character (and emotion) to another, at times interchangeably playing the characters as needed to accomodate other stage business (which is your favorite, Payton’s Helvetica, or Moan’s Helvetica?)
They are also experts at improvisation if things go wrong (a hat goes flying, a cat goes flying) or if an audience member blurts out a comment (Moan: “Its just such excellent writing.”)
Brian Buckner plays the third character, not only musically directing the show, but appearing onstage playing piano throughout. His character is dry, funny, and adds another layer to the entire evening.
There is a reason that many of my New York friends consider “Gutenberg The Musical” their favorite off-broadway show. It is easy to see why. It’s two hour runtime is a bit long, but you will never feel time passing in this show — intermission comes all too soon, and the “serious finale” will even find you singing along as you digest nonsense about “eating your dreams”.
The Dio serves your dinner now, rather than using a buffet line, and quite frankly I liked that a lot. Remember to tip your waiter! (Even the actors remind you!)
The production is assistant directed by Amy Schumacher, Choreographed (clever!) by Rachael Cupples. Matt Tomich designed the set, lighting, and sound and makes a very complicated set-up feel simple and clean. Costumes are by Norma Polk and the (many) props are by Eileen Obradovich.
Gutenberg The Musical continues through May 8th at the Dio, 177 E Main St, Pinckney, MI 48169, (517) 672-6009, diotheatre.com – reservations (tables of 2 or 4) required. Masks are optional.
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