[Title of Show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, Belrose Theatre, San Rafael CA
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys in Speedboats
The intimate space at the historic Belrose Theatre has seen many productions in its 50-plus years, but [Title of Show], produced by Marin Onstage, is quite possibly one of the best. Not your typical showbiz insider tale, this engaging, lively musical is a show all about itself, a true story about the quest for theatrical fame and glory.
Jeff, Hunter, Heidi and Susan – they’re all friends who share a love of theater, especially musical theater. They decide to write an original musical about themselves writing an original musical and submit it to The New York Musical Theatre Festival for consideration. Much to their amazement, they are selected. It premiered at the 2004 Festival and went on to a run off-Broadway and finally, to Broadway in 2008 and a Tony Award nomination.
It’s a pleasure to see talent that’s bigger than the stage it’s presented on. At the Belrose, each cast member is stand-alone star material: Phillip Percy Williams as Hunter, Fernando Siu as Jeff, Amanda Morando as Heidi (who also provides excellent music direction) and Abbey Lee as Susan. Piano player/accompanist Larry is played with joyful exuberance by Justin Pyne.
The high point of the show: a jazzy but sobering number, “Die Vampire Die!” explains that anything or anyone that says “you’re not good enough” are vampires that drain your creativity, but the biggest vampire of them all is the vampire of despair, the one inside your head. Truly moving stuff. “Find a Way Back to Then” is beautifully sung by Morando, a gentle ballad about returning to what really matters.
While director Carl Jordan was doing online research for a cabaret act, he happened across some songs from [Title…] and fell in love with the show; he knew he had to do it. He hand-picked the cast and turned down some really good people in his search. He was looking for, and found, four triple-threat performers with the skill to be leads and still have the ability to blend as an ensemble. Jordan’s meticulous direction leaves nowhere to catch your breath, with every moment filled with action.
The cast is chock-full of recent award-winners: Williams is fresh off his recent San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best Principal Actor in a Musical for “Return to the Forbidden Planet”; Morando was featured in the ensemble. It was also directed by Jordan, who won the SFBATCC Award himself for Best Overall Production for that show. Another SFBATCC award-winner is Lee, who was recognized as Best Featured Actress for her gloriously spicy turn in “Victor/Victoria”. In a neat tie-in, Belrose Theatre founder and local legend Margie Belrose has also just received the SFBATCC Jerry Friedman Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Original video projections and vivid, animated graphics created by Robert Nelson contribute to the offbeat humor and keep the momentum building. Over the twelve briskly-paced scenes there are nice bits of off-script business. It’s an innovative, fast-moving and entertaining production. Each individual performer harmonizes beautifully; the well balanced arrangements are absolutely marvelous. The presentation shows true devotion to the actor’s craft, an honest presentation of a real-life story in song and dance.
Where: Belrose Theatre
1415 5th Ave., San Rafael CA 94901
(415) 448-6152 – Marin Onstage
When: Now Through March 28, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday Matinee at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $10 – $25