Theater Reviews

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Venue: Lyceum Theatre, New York (runs indefinitely)

Show business solipsism is carried to new extremes in "[title of show]," the new meta-theatrical musical about two struggling theater writers creating a ... new meta-theatrical musical. Clever at times but self-indulgent and cloying to the max, this show, now arrived on Broadway after an acclaimed off-Broadway run, definitely has its passionate fans. But its ability to attract non-theater-obsessed audiences is a big question mark, as even its creators-stars express in the show.

As is related in exhaustive detail during the proceedings, "[title of show]" had its origins when composer-lyricist Jeff Bowen and librettist Hunter Bell decided to write a musical for submission to the annual New York Musical Theater Festival. The resulting process, in which they are aided by their actress friends Susan (Susan Blackwell) and Heidi (Heidi Blickenstaff), is depicted in an endlessly self-referential manner, filled with insider jokes about such topics as famous flop musicals and the catty theater-oriented Internet chat rooms.

The idea is not without its appeal but is carried to dulling repetitiveness here, with Bowen and Bell, clearly infatuated with their own cleverness, constantly commenting ironically on how everything they're saying and doing is going to be in the very show in which we're watching.

The show, performed on a nearly bare stage with only a sole keyboardist (Benjamin Howes) providing musical accompaniment, does have its fun moments, especially the series of nasty answering machine messages addressed to the creators by such real-life musical theater stars as Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole.

But the goodwill is dissipated by the self-congratulatory manner in which Bowen and Bell depict their refusal to compromise their artistic integrity during the hurdle-filled efforts of taking the show to Broadway.

It's too bad because they are clearly talented songwriters, as demonstrated by moving and melodic numbers like "Die Vampire Die," about the inevitable self-doubts that accompany the creative process. But in the end, it's hard not to agree with their own observation that many people will find their show to be filled with "self-referential, self-indulgent bullshit."

Cast: Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen. Music-lyrics: Jeff Bowen. Book: Hunter Bell. Director-choreographer: Michael Berresse. Scenic designer: Neil Patel. Costume designer: Chase Tyler. Lighting designer: Ken Billington, Jason Kantrowitz. Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners.

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