Jeff and Hunter have three weeks to write a brand new musical to submit to the New York Musical Theatre Festival so, for lack of a better idea, they write a show about the process of writing a show. As a love letter to musical theatre and homage to the creative industry in general, [title of show] follows in the footsteps of great writer duos to explore friendship, creativity, and the journey through self-doubt.
It’s New York City in the early 2000s and best friends Jeff (Blake Condon) and Hunter (Robert Meek) have enlisted their friends Heidi (Lali Gill) and Susan (Stacey Gay) to help prepare a submission for a musical theatre festival. Their best idea is to write about themselves as artists and friends in a hyper-meta style that integrates their late night phone conversations, voicemails from back when people left those, and rehearsals/brainstorm sessions where they flesh out the details of what it means to write about writing. The script captures the unique feelings of creative experimentation, collaboration, and competition summarised in songs like “Die, Vampire, Die” about defeating self-doubt and “An Original Musical” about staring at the blank page.
Happy Rainbow Friends Productions’s rendition of this show was faithful to the original’s mood with the four chairs and a piano, played by Larry (Paul Young) and the informal, relaxed performance style. It’s a unique mode that on occasion falters into unfinished territory but the majority of the production feels friendly and open. In particular, following the group’s acceptance into the New York Musical Festival and their quick leap onto off-Broadway, there’s a period of waiting where the motivation wavers and the overall propulsion of the script disintegrates into messiness. It’s in this second half where direction from Laura Heuston would do well to tighten the pacing to maintain momentum. But, that being said, the script is also true to the creative process where success and recognition can come in leaps and bounds before lulling into silence very quickly.
The writer duo at the centre of the production, Jeff and Hunter, are a typical pairing, bouncing off each others’ analytical v lateral thinking minds. Condon is a clean and precise Jeff against Meek’s spirited, sometimes domineering, Hunter. The compliment of Gill and Gay, though, as the mediators and conduits for the finished product does well to break up the stagnation of worn creative disagreements. Gill as an often reserved and self-deprecating actor going from understudy to understudy role offers a small but satisfying character arc culminating in “A Way to Back Then” about capturing the confidence of childhood before rejection became the norm. Similarly, the irreverence of Gay’s Susan as an amateur singer turned musical theatre performer provides a welcome access point for any non-musical theatre buffs.
This is a sweet show and, while this may be well-hashed ground, sometimes a reminder about the importance of friendship and dreaming big is enough. It’s also a fitting attitude for Happy Rainbow Friends Productions’s debut production as a group who aim to make queer theatre with queer stories for everyone to enjoy. [title of show] is a not-for-profit production for Happy Rainbow Friends Productions, with proceeds going to their partner organisation Twenty10 which provides housing, counselling, training, and other services for people in the LGBTQIA+ community across NSW.
[title of show] ran at the Newsagency from April 20th – 21st