Review: Western Sky Theatre, Gutenberg! the Musical ·
Subiaco Theatre Centre, 27 June ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·
As a certified word nerd, I am fascinated by the printing press; and before seeing this show, pondered how such a complex piece of machinery would be represented on stage. Would its placement have involved a crane?
Nope. Just a humble cardboard box, as it turns out, with an A4 sign that says “printing press”. The phrase “less is more” sounds like such a cliché. But after experiencing the sheer delight of Gutenberg! The Musical, a celebration of minimalism and imagination, I am convinced this maxim applies to musical theatre.
Gutenberg is about two dreamers, Bud (Tyler Jacob Jones) and Doug (Andrew Baker), who have written an alternative history musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. Bud is a barrista at Starbucks; Doug works in a nursing home and lives above a noisy pet store. “We used to do lip synch concerts for people in wheelchairs,” we’re told. They had earlier written a musical about Stephen King.
The hapless but adorable pair pitch their concept before a room full of producers, hoping it will lead to a dream run on Broadway. This clever premise explains the minimalist set, tiny cast and lack of costumes.
At the back of the stage are two tables, each holding about 20 baseball caps labelled with characters’ names. The pair don the hats to indicate which role they’re playing. And what a bizarre cast of characters they create … among them the beef fat trimmer, the monk with a cat called Satan, the long-suffering young monk, Gutenberg himself and his love-interest Helvetica.
The versatility displayed by Jacob Jones and Baker as they slip between these characters is staggering. At times, they wear about 10 hats, ditching one then another as they take on new roles. It is a hilarious spectacle.
And thanks to some simple yet ingenious use of string and pegs, the whole cast forms a chorus line at the show’s climax.
Written by Anthony King and Scott Brown, Gutenberg parodies musical theatre conventions. There’s a “charm song” about biscuits, intended for a cameo by Kevin Spacey, and an end of act rock number that Doug explains “would include electric guitars and lasers”.
Directed by Erin Hutchinson, Gutenberg is a feel-good, off-beat comedy that provides a perfect vehicle for the performers’ considerable talents. Musical director Joshua Haines is incredible as Charles the pianist.
Gutenberg! The Musical follows Western Sky Theatre’s brilliant season of Once We Lived Here, staged at the Blue Room last year. Baker founded Western Sky to give performers from WA, or those trained at WAAPA, a reason to return to Perth and perform in a well-produced, small-scale musical.
At the end of Gutenberg, Bud and Doug sing “it’s not the success that counts, it’s the dream.” That may be true but this production proves that with enough vision and talent, the dream and success can come together. I can’t wait to see what Western Sky do next.
Pictured top are Tyler Jacob Jones as Bud and Andrew Baker as Doug.