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[title of show] at Cohoes Music Hall is a musical love letter to theater

[title of show] is either the most perfect title for a musical - or the worst. Actually, the four-person show playing at Cohoes Music Hall could be titled “the little musical that could - and did.”

However, unless you know the story, the title makes little sense.

Directing the work for Playhouse Stage at Cohoes Music Hall is Michael LoPorto. He has, for nearly 20 years, directed almost every major musical the company has produced in Albany’s Washington Park. He also directed the lovely “Bright Star” at Cohoes Music Hall last January.

LoPorto spends most of the year working in academia theater and with small professional theaters in the New York City, Brooklyn and New Jersey areas. He acknowledges that [title of show] creates a marketing problem “The title really doesn’t make clear what a great theatrical experience this is" He calls it “a love letter to the theater.”

He muses that during rehearsals he feels he is actually existing within the show. “It’s a wonderful play that offers great insights on the creative process. I feel it captures the hard work, love and frustrations of every show I’ve ever worked on.”

He explains that the work is about two friends who collaborate to write an original 90-minute musical in a matter of three weeks. Eventually, two female friends join them in overcoming some problems and to perform in the show.

When any creative team embarks on such a nebulous project they put the tentative name of the show in brackets. The reluctance to give the work a permanent name indicates how things can change during the creative process.

LoPorto also reveals that the story in [title of show] is true. When invited to submit a work in a new music festival the creators, Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book), ran out of ideas. They had only three weeks to create an original work and no inspiration.

One day they realized the process of creating an original musical was more interesting than any of their other ideas. Indeed, the male characters in the musical are named Jeff and Hunter

When finished they kept the name [title of show] and submitted the work to the initial version of the now prestigious New York Musical Festival. That was in 2004. Miraculously, it won. It went on to have a successful Off-Broadway run and moved to Broadway in 2008.

LoPorto says it sounds like a fairy tale success story that could be as frivolous as any Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film. (Hey kids, there’s a barn. Let’s put on a show!) He doesn’t deny the work contains the feel-good charm of youthful success.

However, he insists that in rehearsal they have discovered a lot of depth in the material. He explains that the play also shows how the innocence of friends writing a story for a festival becomes more competitive with each level of commercial success.

Questions of cuts in the material to make the work more appealing to the tourist trade in the hope of increasing ticket sales taint the friendships. An opportunity to replace one of the female actors with a star name fractures it.

LoPorto says “Everything changes when it becomes about money and profit. Creative differences and mistrust threaten to ruin close relationships.” He adds, “Beneath the lighthearted fun the show questions is art about the process of creativity or the profit that can be made and the careers that can be launched.”

This philosophy of creating art for the sake of joy is one reason LoPorto keeps returning to Park Playhouse and Playhouse Stage Company. He is in awe of the product they put out every year in Washington Park and thrilled that so many people get to see it for free.

“It’s all about the audience,” he says. Continuing the line of thought, he offers his theory that that attitude results in heightened creativity, sincere collaboration and art for art’s sake.

He points to the production and proudly says, “We create magic with four actors and a set that is basically four chairs. The price of a ticket is nominal but we aspire to offer the best experience an audience can have.”

That said, he feels [title of show] asks people from every walk of life to define success. “Is it how much money you make? Or is it how much joy you bring to others?”

[title of show] is at Cohoes Music Hall, downtown Cohoes Thursdays- Sundays through February 12. For tickets and schedule information go to playhousestage.org or call 518-434-0776.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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