Lacking a title, [show] has everything else 

A hit musical homage across the Cooper

A few weeks ago, journalists were having fun with the announcement that Newsweek was up for sale. The Atlantic's Joshua Green suggested they put Jesus on the cover, because studies show Christ really sells magazines.

What followed were dozens of suggestions: "Jesus: Was He Gay? The New Science," "The Jesus Twitter: How Social Networking Can Save Your Family (and your soul)," and "Give It To Caesar: How Jesus Would Pay Off The National Debt."

That's how [title of show] works: the premise is totally insider, but once you understand the premise, you're in on the joke. Jeff and Hunter (played by Drew Archer and Robbie Thomas) are musical collaborators struggling to come up with something for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. So they decide to create a musical about creating a musical.

"Everything I say could be in our show?" Jeff asks. "Like this? And this?"

Yes. And they wrangle their friends into the show: burgeoning Broadway actress Susan (Emily Wilhoit) and self-proclaimed funny lady Susan (Becca Anderson).

"You keep talking, and the show will write itself," the boys tell her.

The musical gets a slot in the festival, finds a home off Broadway, garners theatre awards and critical praise from the New York Times, gets a shot at Broadway, and finally grasps that pinnacle of musical theatre achievement. And you see it all in 90 minutes. Yes, it's a little self-indulgent, but it doesn't matter when it works this well.

Just when you would think the shtick of backstage banter playing out on stage would get old ("We really need to get out of this scene because it feels long."), the actors spin the gag into new hilarity.

Musical lovers will probably have more fun than most. The Rent references alone provide for one hell of a drinking game. And the references are fresh: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark gets a mention, and it hasn't even made it to opening night yet. There's also lots of obscure name-dropping (John Cameron Mitchell should get royalties). Theatre unions get smacked around a little with a running joke about accompanist Larry (Martin Dawson), and the theatre snobs that populate internet chat rooms get a shout out, too, including lucky Sweenylover12. The show itself plays off of the behind-the-curtain exploits of shows like A Chorus Line.

There's one verse about editing the play for "sweet, grey-haired matinee ladies." Having been the youngest audience member by about 20 years at many a Piccolo performance, I was amused. But, looking over in the audience to see one of those grey-haired matinee ladies shooting a look at her husband was worth the price of admission.

A lot of the comedy has nothing to do with the Great White Way, like a cautionary tale about eating outside in Chelsea or a new definition for "brainstorming" that involves masturbation and watching Doc Hollywood.

Showmos and theatre queens take note, this is your kind of musical. Thomas and Archer play the sexuality of the two creators very matter-of-fact, but there are some lines you're destined to recognize from personal experience, like, "Drag queens are fabulous at night, but in the day? Not so much."

A show like this is nothing without cast chemistry, and you get it in spades with these actors, particularly between Anderson and Wilhoit. Their faghag duet, "What Kind of Girl is She," is a standout performance.

And, by the time you get to the heart of the musical, fittingly in "Die Vampire Die," you realize the true charm of this production. Yes, it's that rare original Broadway musical, but it's also a true story about four friends finding success doing what they love doing. They'll hit you over the head with that one again in the final number, but it's much more memorable in "Vampire."

With Piccolo often offering the best of the past season or road-tested festival favorites, the Village Playhouse and director Keely Enright get props for offering something that isn't just new, it's destined to be an enduring homage to musical theatre.

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