‘Gutenberg! The Musical’ was hilarious.
Springboard Productions opened their first Anywhere Festival show last Thursday with a lesser-known musical theatre piece quite unlike any other.
Bursting with passion, enthusiasm and sheer energy, ‘Gutenberg! The Musical!’ was written by Scott Brown and Anthony King in 2005. A show-within-a-show, the storyline follows two writers, Doug Simon and Bud Davenport, as they pitch their idea for a musical to a panel of Broadway producers (which the audience is framed as). The “story” they are pitching follows Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, and according to Doug and Bud, is a work of historical fiction – by which they mean they just made it up.
Doug and Bud are portrayed by Daniel Kirkby (also the show’s producer) and Liam Kirkpatrick respectively. As Doug and Bud, Kirkby and Kirkpatrick subsequently portray every single cast member in the shows they are pitching, differentiating between them through physicality, voice, and hats with the character’s names on them. This element, along with the razor-sharp wit of the script and a plethora of in-jokes for musical theatre fans, is what really makes the show pop, and Kirkby and Kirkpatrick both bring intense energy to every character they play. In turn, this ramps up the pace to a laugh-a-second romp through a story that, on paper, is the most boring thing ever written.
It would be easy to play these characters as hapless idiots. After all, the story they have constructed doesn’t sound remotely believable for a second, and they openly admit to writing in things like an evil monk who doesn’t want people to know how to read, a love interest, a twist where the printing press is destroyed (no explanation as to how) and various musical theatre tropes purely because there was no conflict in the original story. However, they are both shown to be so enthusiastically committed to their pitch, with genuine effort put into every musical number and every silly substitute for a prop, that they come across with such an endearing nature that one can’t help but want to see them succeed.
The songs are all genuinely entertaining numbers. Doug and Bud often refer to the idea that if they receive funding, the show would have a full band with an array of instruments, but for now, they just have one guy on piano. The one guy in this production is Musical Director Jonathon Gardner, known as Charles in-show. And honestly, he sometimes makes you forget there isn’t a full band, as he never misses a beat and manages to bring structure and sincerity to Kirkby and Kirkpatrick’s chaos. This is another element that could have been played for cynicism, where a lesser production would treat the music as an afterthought because the show is supposed to be “bad.” That approach could very well have ruined the whole show. Thankfully, the music is approached with complete sincerity. The sad songs are sad, the epic Act One finale is epic, and the pointless charm song is… well, charming. Humour comes from ridiculous lyrics, silly voices and over-characterisation – it does not come from bad music.
The opening night was not entirely perfect. There were a handful of moments where some stuttering occurred and it seemed as if some lines were dropped, but nothing that couldn’t be chalked up to opening night jitters, and, thankfully, this was very rare. Not every scripted joke lands, with a few cheap laughs that are delivered with a bit too much fanfare. Occasionally the interspersed segments where Doug and Bud break character and go into detail about what they wrote and why could wear thin and drag a little. This is less an issue with the production, and more the script.
Make no mistake though, this is a fast show. For every joke that doesn’t land, there are ten that do. If you’re a fan of musical theatre, there are even more jokes for you to sink your teeth into. It’s clear that Scott Brown and Anthony King love musical theatre, which makes them all the better primed to make fun of it. Without a true appreciation of theatre tropes, a show like this would all fall flat, and Kirkby, Kirkpatrick and Gardner clearly carry that appreciation through in their performance and interpretations of the script.
‘Gutenberg! The Musical!’ is exactly the sort of low-budget, high-energy, performer-oriented show that should thrive at a theatre festival like Anywhere Festival. It is irreverent, self-aware, enthralling and full of zeal, with barely a moment to catch your breath. There are two shows to go this coming weekend, so if you do catch it, keep an eye out for Billy, my personal favourite of Doug and Bud’s characters. His role is small but his impact is tenfold.
Springboard Productions’ production of ‘Gutenberg! The Musical’ performs until Saturday, 21 May 2022 at the EC Venue, Fortitude Valley. For more information, visit the Anywhere Festival website.
Publisher Note: The reviewer of this show has a personal connection with some of the cast members, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.