Have you heard the one about the guy who went to a musical expecting to learn the meaning of life? He saw Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre). So he didn’t learn the meaning of life, but he had a good time—which, by some lights, is the meaning of life. In other words, if you go to this new work by the creators of [title of show] expecting some deep philosophic revelation, and you’ll probably feel deeply let down. But go in expecting some songs, some laughs, some touching moments, and a few intriguing ideas to pique your interest, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself.
Granted, the enjoyment involved is somewhat intermittent. [title of show], a much smoother pleasure trip, was, as its typographically tricky name suggests, a musical about itself, in which author-performers Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, abetted onstage by Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, chronicled the process of creating, performing, and reacting to the success of precisely the show we were seeing. The small, tight event gained an appealingly fluffy texture by stirring in a stream of acerbic remarks about its own absurdity, plus some loopy digressions into obscure pop nostalgia (a Bell specialty). That and the four performers’ warmth kept it from seeming a monochrome study in Structuralism. It may have been only fun about fun, but it was fun nonetheless.
Now. Here. This. has more cosmic aspirations. It literally begins with a bang—the Big one, to be specific. The [title of show] ‘s quartet has reunited (with Blackwell now part of its writing team) at the Museum of Natural History, to learn how life on Earth evolved to bring them all together. Their—and our—presence in one place at the same time, they tell us, has occurred against gigantic odds.
Beyond that, though, they have nothing cosmic to convey, except for philosopher Thomas Merton’s injunction to live in the moment, which supplies their title. While the Museum exhibits they see trigger their individual memories, the show evolves into a meet-the-cast revue, celebrating the various paths that led them to this stage. Its many tiny delights bobbing in a soup of general good nature, the event feels at once adorable and flimsy: Evolution, unlike the creation of a musical, lacks a single observable goal. Michael Berresse’s sleek direction helps, as do Bowen’s bouncy songs and Bell’s niftily nutty interjections. As musicals struggle to survive, I’d bank on this quirkily unnatural selection. Michael Feingold