The title, Gutenberg! The Musical!, boasts a pair of exclamation points, thanks to the naïve enthusiasm of its two alleged creators who gleefully perform it at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
And their giddy, self-congratulatory performances deserve even more exclamation points for Dan Chevalier and Steve Krambeck. I hate it when someone promises a show will be hilarious, but for once I can’t resist claiming I just saw a hilarious evening of theater.
Produced by Cathy Hirsch, first as her Candy Project offering in a pizza parlor, it’s very worthy of earning its place now in the Howard Drew space at the Playhouse. Written by Anthony King and Scott Brown, it plays as an attempt by Dan and Steve as Bud and Doug, two clueless naifs, to bring their show to Broadway by acting all the roles in character-named baseball hats.
Grinning broadly, Doug assures the audience, “Writing a musical isn’t easy,” then announces, “It’s about Johann Gutenberg.” An eager Dan quickly shouts, “WHO IS HE?”
Here you get my version of the answer: Remember the Millennium? That’s when an international survey of historians voted that in 1450, Gutenberg came up with the most important invention of the past thousand years; the printing press. The same historical consensus named the Protestant Reformation the most significant event of those ten centuries.
Doesn’t take much imagination to see why two hopelessly innocent would-be playwrights would think they had a shot at creating the world’s greatest musical.
But when Bud and Doug found scant help from a Google search, they delved into historical fiction. “It’s fiction that is true,” Chevalier’s character explains. Gutenberg thus turns a wine press into a printing press, from drink to think, to benefit the town of Schlimmer, where Johann is the only citizen who can read.
If you doubt the value of reading, there’s a dead baby, or rather a hat named Dead Baby, on the floor, the victim of a parent unable to read a label. If the hilarity in all this isn’t coming across, take my word of it. It’s a hilarious script with hilarious performances by Krambeck and Chevalier.
Those who’ve watched them in action over the years will understand that authors King and Brown have written roles perfect for the pair. Most of Dan’s past roles have paved the way for this masterful turn and Steve proved that his lead in the Playhouse “One Man, Two Guvnors” was no flash in the pan.
If I were half as talented as these two actors and the men who wrote the script and lyrics, I’d be able to capture their magic with a handful of anecdotes that fully portray the gleeful fun they deliver. Suffice it to say, it all works wonderfully.
No small part of its success comes from the comedic antics of Chevalier and Krambeck, but no choreographer is credited so applaud them along with director Kaitlyn McClincy and music director Tim Vallier. The mock-heroic heights of the song and their melodramatic treatment parody the excesses of Broadway musicals.
Added surprise from the historian’s viewpoint is that the script not only spoofs the notion that a musical must support a righteous cause such as denouncing anti-semitism, but actually exploits a truth more explicitly relevant to Gutenberg. The villain of the story is an evil monk who can read, thus can monopolize interpretation of the Bible to his non-reading neighbors.
Along comes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type and his printing press which brings the acclaim of historians because the common people can read his Bible themselves rather than depending on the monk and his religious compatriots.
Gutenberg! The Musical! runs through June 27 at the Omaha Community Playhouse, 69th and Cass Streets. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays in the Howard Drew Theatre. Tickets are available at TICKETOMAHA.COM or by calling 402.553.0800.