by Laura Ferguson
The show opens establishing that we, the audience, are a testing crowd for creators Doug Simon and Bud Davenport (played by Charlie Potter and Kevin Orlando respectively). Doug and Bud introduce their pianist Charles (Stephen Clothier) and explain to us that there are some Broadway producers in the crowd. They are so sweetly excited by this prospect, I wish I was a Broadway producer so I could help them out. The two explain that we will be viewing a reading of their show, Gutenberg! The Musical! with a lack of cast, band, lighting director or any other production details a fully-fledged show would have. Instead, Doug and Bud will be wearing many hats, become the entire cast and do the lighting themselves.
Now we get to the actual musical itself where the wearing many hats part is literal with white baseball caps being applied and often stacked as Potter and Orlando endeavour to outfit an entire show with only their two able bodies. The caps have the character they are portraying written on them and it was a hilarious tool to easily distinguish between different members of the cast. The story covers Gutenberg, a winemaker in 15th Century Germany from the town of Schlimmer (which after a cursory Google translate hilariously means ‘Worse’), who strives to teach people to read. His employee, the buxom Helvetica, is in love with him and there is an evil Monk who monks about, wants to destroy the printing press and worships Satan. Oh, sorry, did I not mention this show delights in being very historically inaccurate?
It is absolutely hilarious though. Doug and Bud are awkward and charming, their sincerity shining through their excited puppy-dog eyes. The duo’s excuse for being historically inaccurate is that the first internet search result showed there was ‘scant information’ about Gutenberg and Doug intones “clearly research was not going to help us” with a slow shake of his head. Gutenberg is portrayed by Charlie Potter as positive and assertive, confidently, and rather easily, inventing the printing press. Helvetica typifies a fun mix of Middle-Ages wench and damsel-in-distress. The evil Monk, as played by Orlando, has an American South accent like Pierce Hawthorne’s father in the show, Community. I couldn’t help but giggle at every line as the accent was so out of place for rural Germany.
Our imagination is put to fervent use in this production as there is no set and no costuming, but I loved this feature. It is here that the work of director Cassandra Tse shines. She has put a lot of thought into Gutenberg! The Musical! and appears to have relished in the challenge of creating the show in our collective minds like a theatrical version of Dungeons & Dragons. It was so exciting to become an integral part of the success of this show, imagining the town of Schlimmer and Gutenberg striving to give the townspeople the gift of being able to read. I saw the oft-mentioned thatch, I smelled the contents of the chamber pot being tipped out a window. I even imagined the unlikely bats that swirled around Monk during the Act 1 finale song, Tomorrow Is Tonight.
The songs of Gutenberg! The Musical! are hysterical. Potter and Orlando are fabulous in articulating each line to perfectly punctuate the jokes and I loved the simplistic dancing with moves taken from popular music videos such as the Thriller reference in one of my favourite songs, Haunted German Wood. I loved the easy choreography, it was a genuine depiction of two men who had written the story, lyrics and music but whose expertise did not extend to their dance ability. It worked so perfectly, I grinned and laughed and slapped my knee through most of the musical numbers.
Doug and Bud, the creators of Gutenberg! The Musical!, pop in from time to time to explain things and provide hilarious meta-commentary on theatre. They explain why there is a song called Biscuits!, which has nothing to do with the plot but is the show’s token charm song. They utilise these fourth-wall breaking moments brilliantly and they serve a purpose at the end of the show when a great spoiler I can’t tell you about happens.
Charlie Potter and Kevin Orlando must be lauded for the way they portray each character in a way that was so incredibly entertaining while still being easy to follow. One particular moment where Potter and Orlando had to portray two different characters each in a harmonising number absolutely blew me away. The coordination of taking their hats on and off, as well as acting differently for the characters AND changing their voices to suit each one, was nothing short of genius.
Afterwards, I was brimming with happiness and had given the elasticity in my face a thorough workout. Gutenberg! The Musical! was so funny and such a good time. I laughed right from the start and revelled in the zinging thrill of being at a fantastic show.Cassandra Tse has done amazing work putting this together, Stephen Clothier played the piano flawlessly throughout, while Potter and Orlando seamlessly swung us through the show. Gutenberg! The Musical! isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and of theatre in general while not relying on that for the bulk of its comedy. Instead, we had puns galore, witticisms and physical comedy. I loved every minute of it. Gutenberg! I want to go again (a -berg).
Gutenberg! The Musical! Is current showing at the Newtown Cultural Community Centre, located on the corner of Rintoul and Colombo Streets, Newtown. For ticketing information, please visit their eventfinda page.