The theater has always been a self-referential place. (“Will it be Bach I shall hear,” wrote Cole Porter, “or just a Cole Porter song?”) But few self-alluders have embraced their narcissism with the thoroughness of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, co-authors of [title of show], the musical about the writing of a musical about the writing of a musical, which used to climax with the fictional show, like the real one, winning the Fringe Festival slot it was written for, and now ends with the opus-within-an-opus going on to a full production. If this keeps up, Bowen and Bell may find themselves performing in a show slightly longer than Wagner’s Ring—not to be confused with Ring of Fire—and I dread to think what may happen if somebody buys the movie rights.
Meanwhile, though, for all its unending self-scrutiny, [title of show] manages to be a good deal more amusing than it is annoying. The traditional narcissism of show business hasn’t been this naked, or this funny, since Eddie Cantor sang, “I love me! I love me! I’m wild about myself.” Both capable performers, Bowen and Bell also clearly display the skill to write about whatever subject they choose . . . if they ever happen to choose one other than their own writing. The two actress colleagues they drag into their event, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, have even more appeal, particularly Blickenstaff, with her brash good humor and big, bright-toned belt voice. Michael Berresse, their novice director, has supplied a lavishly subtle bare-stage production. And nobody who loves musicals can really quarrel with a show so immersed in the form’s lore that it can reference every bomb from Kwamina to Bagels and Yox.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 28, 2006