[title of show] at Cohoes Music Hall - a small musical with a big heart
[title of show] is a small musical that will be loved by anyone who has been involved in a theater production. It is also a work that can be appreciated by anyone who has tackled an impossible dream.
It’s being produced by Playhouse Stage Company at Cohoes Music Hall through February 12. It’s a small show with a big heart that proves calling a musical cute can be a compliment.
Because the four-person musical, plus a participating musical director, is a look at the hurdles of creating an original musical in a limited time, it can be thought of as a backstage musical. Indeed, this is a work filled with more inside theater jokes than almost any other show in recent memory.
However, it’s a relatable story about trying to achieve one’s dreams. Oddly, while [title of show] is a true story about four young people creating a successful show, I suspect the work will have as much resonance with older audiences as it will with a younger crowd.
It’s not only a show about inexperienced youth conquering all odds, it’s a look at both our younger selves and our off-spring. Parents know their kids have to go through a similar process before they, too, can be genuine adults. Ultimately, the musical is about facing the fear of failure before you can succeed.
But before the praise gets too lavish, it should be made clear that [title of show] is not a great musical. It’s just barely a good one. It aspires to be a feel good show and despite excellent performers, an enjoyable score and a “winning against all odds” story, the work is often problematic.
For one thing, it doesn’t always overcome the self-satisfying nature of the writing. Cute is good. Too cute can be cloying. [title of show] manages to be both.
The achievement of the Playhouse Stage Theatre production under the solid direction of Michael LoPorto is not that it hides the show’s flaws, but that it makes what could be a self-indulgent exercise into a mostly charming evening. And, it does eventually make the point that the process of creativity is the true essence of success. Commercial rewards are but a by-product of hard work, resilience, loyalty and believing in yourself.
Devin Cortez as Jeff Bowen teams well with Jacob Lehning as Hunter Bell. Together they are the central figures who create the original show. Cortez is ideal as the “Grammar Nazi” who is a realist who wants to enjoy the moment. Lehning is nicely comic as the driven book writer with a potty mouth. He can only be satisfied with a Broadway success.
The two supporting females, Nicole Zelka and Michelle Oppedisano are just as successful playing the women who do not bond easily. Their numbers, “What Kind of Girl is She?” and “Secondary Characters” are not only fun, they clearly define their relationship to each other and the show.
As a bonus, each actor has a show-stopping moment. Oppedisano delights in “Die, Vampire, Die!” and Zelka gets the terrific 11 o’clock number, “Way Back to Then.” Her Broadway-style singing voice is so ideal for the song, I can’t even imagine Sutton Foster doing it better.
My favorite song of the night was “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.” It is to this show what “Seasons of the Year” is to “Rent.” Oddly, the songs grow deeper in the latter part of the of the 95-minute work, while the story tends to wander.
A special pleasure is to be introduced to the company’s long time and enormously respected musical director, Brian Axford. Usually silent and hidden, Axford is acknowledged on the stage playing the show’s key board. He even gets a couple of lines as well as keeping the Cohoes Musical Hall filed with lovely musical sounds.
Director LoPorto not only keeps the fluctuating relationships in balance, he also keeps the stage movement clean and efficient. Considering it all plays out on a bare stage with only four chairs, it’s an achievement.
Best of all, he finds a way in the play’s closing moments to explain why people in theater are crazy and why they keep life-long friendships. Actually, what makes [title of show] endearing is it could also be about any and all the people in the world, in any field, who have travelled their own path to satisfaction.
[title of show] produced by Playhouse Stage Company at Cohoes Music Hall. It plays Thursdays – Sundays until 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.
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