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Gutenberg! The Musical!

"Gutenberg! The Musical!" runs through February 5 at ALT Theatre. (photo by Lukia Costello)

There is a scene in Mel Brooks film, The Producers, in which Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are reading through a stack of scripts looking for the worst play in the world. At one point, Wilder reads out loud “Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic cockroach.” Not recognizing the famed opening lines of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” Mostel dryly says, “Too good!”

This is the spirit in which Scott Brown and Anthony King concocted Gutenberg! The Musical!, opening this week at ALT.

The creators were inspired by jobs reading through new musicals by untried talents, explains director Loraine O’Donnell. Each script would be accompanied by a cassette on which the show’s creators sang the songs themselves, painfully doing all of the character voices, obviously confident that they had penned the next Oklahoma!. During their tenure they read innumerable vampire musicals and even a show featuring Jesus in a trailer park. And so, they got to thinking…what would be the worst possible topic for a musical?

The speed with which they arrived at the invention of the printing press frightened them.

Gutenberg! The Musical! began as a 45-minute entertainment at a new musical festival, where it was so successful that the creators resolved to expand the material into a full-length opus.

The conceit is that the creators of the new Gutenberg musical are doing a backers audition, performing the show themselves for their friends and some potential Broadway producers. They hope that a producer in the audience will adore their show and fulfill their ill-advised dreams. Timothy Newell and David Butler play the hapless duo.

As they are wearing all the hats on this evening—including playing the numerous characters in this expansive and ambitious show, they differentiate between characters by wearing hats. Not character hats, mind you, but nondescript hats with the names of the characters written on them.

“I’m working with Amy Taravella, who is doing the choreography,” notes O’Donnell. “We’ve never worked together before, and we’re finding that we have to choreograph around those hats!”

Oh yes, and there’s another thing.

“From time to time,” adds O’Donnell, “I’ve looked at Amy’s choreography and I’ve had to say, ‘Oh honey, we need to change that—it’s too good!’”

Gutenberg! The Musical! runs through February 5 at the ALT Theatre (255 Great Arrow Avenue/868-6847).