Gutenberg! the Musical
Musical theatre, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A sheer delight

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.

The versatility displayed by Jacob Jones and Baker as they slip between these characters is staggering.

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.

Gutenberg! The Musical plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until June 30.

Read Seesaw’s interview with Andrew Baker here.

Pictured top are Tyler Jacob Jones as Bud and Andrew Baker as Doug.

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Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones
Features, Musical theatre, News, Performing arts

West side stories

Although the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts is home to one of Australia’s most prestigious musical theatre courses, the job opportunities for its graduates have, traditionally, been on the other side of the country. One WAAPA musical theatre graduate is doing his bit to help change that, however. Producer and performer Andrew Baker is staging musicals in Perth under the name Western Sky Theatre. Seesaw’s Nina Levy spoke to Baker to find out more about Western Sky and its next production, Gutenberg! The Musical.

Andrew Baker

Nina Levy: Tell us about the path that led you to forming Western Sky Theatre…
Andrew Baker: My background is in musical theatre performance. I trained at WAAPA in the BA course there and then followed the well-worn path over East. I had a great time over there working ever-so-occasionally in professional theatre, but got a bit disillusioned and went back to my old career as a lawyer. Since returning home to WA, I’ve found my way back into working in the arts sector in various roles. My passion for musical theatre has returned and it’s clear to a few of us that there is an audience for quality, smaller scale professional musical theatre in WA. So there’s a bit of a gap in the market between, say, the always great work that WAAPA does in presenting a range of new and classic shows, and the big touring productions. There actually aren’t many opportunities for WA raised or trained musical theatre performers to work on their craft in Perth. So that’s how Western Sky came about. But it’s early days.

NL: When did you found Western Sky Theatre? And what is its raison d’être?
AB: Western Sky is pretty new. Our first musical was the gorgeous Australian piece Once We Lived Here, which we did at the Blue Room Theatre last year. It won two Blue Room Theatre awards and I think broke the Blue Room box office record.

The idea at the heart of Western Sky is to give people who are from WA or who may have trained at WAAPA (and so have a WA connection) a reason to come home to Perth and perform in a well-produced small-scale musical (and hopefully get paid). In Once We Lived Here, for instance, three of the five cast members came home from the East to do the show, and all five had done undergrad. musical theatre degrees (four at WAAPA, one from Lasalle, Singapore). It’s about people getting a chance to do what they were trained to do, in front of their home audience.

NL: Gutenberg! The Musical made its Perth debut back in 2016 and is returning this month. For those who missed it the first time around, tell us a bit about the show…
AB: Gutenberg is a rollercoaster ride of laughs. It’s about two dreamers, Bud and Doug, who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg. They are presenting it as a backers’ audition, where they show it to a room full of Broadway producers in the hope someone in the room will take it to Broadway. They’ve written what they think is a big, splashy, epic musical that is serious. You’ll have to come and see if they get it to Broadway or not.

NL: The Perth indie theatre sector is (usually) very much about presenting locally written work… what made you choose to buck the trend and present Gutenberg! The Musical?
AB: The presentation of locally written work is vital and there are some excellent writers in Perth creating original musicals (my co-star in Gutenberg, Tyler Jacob Jones, is one such artist who is doing awesome work). In fact there is a big conversation going on at the moment about original Australian musicals. It’s a hot topic over East. But I feel that the original works space is pretty well looked after in Perth so our focus is producing shows that artists and audiences already know and love, and to bring them to new audiences in a new way. However, we’re open to all excellent musical theatre (especially when a lot of new work is written with small spaces and budgets in mind!).

NL: And what made you decide to give this production another outing?
AB: It was just so much fun the first time around but we performed it in a less than ideal space. We want to do the show in a real theatre space now! It’s also a big honour to be asked to be a part of the Subiaco Theatre Festival with the best of Perth’s independent producers and theatre artists.

NL: You act in this show, as well as producing it… what are the pros and cons of being both producer and performer?
AB: There are certainly times when I need to step away from marketing and other producing duties to make sure I’m giving my performance the time it needs. This is a really challenging show and it takes a lot of focus. So it’s about finding a good team, time management and prioritising well.

NL: After Gutenberg, what’s next for Western Sky Theatre?
AB: One of the important things we want to be mindful of is to take our time – to grow a culture around the company and to find a tribe of like-minded people over the first few years. We’re focusing on achievable, small shows and doing them really well! We have the next show in mind. And we’re chatting to people. It’s exciting!

Catch Gutenberg! The Musical at Subiaco Arts Centre, as part of Subiaco Theatre Festival, 27-30 June.

Pictured top: Andrew Baker and Tyler Jacob Jones in ‘Gutenberg! The Musical’.

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Gutenberg! The Musical
Calendar, Featured, June 18

Musical theatre: Gutenberg! The Musical

27 – 30 June @ Subiaco Arts Centre ·
Presented by Subiaco Arts Centre and Western Sky Theatre (in association with Holland St Productions) ·

30 characters. 2 men. One crazy dream.

In this musical rollercoaster ride, two aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for their new project: a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg. With an unending supply of misguided enthusiasm, Bud and Doug sing all the songs and play all the parts in their historical epic, with the hope that one of the producers in attendance will give them a Broadway contract. In the process, we learn a lot about them, and a little bit about Gutenberg … maybe.

“★★★★ … I wouldn’t miss it for quids” The West Australian
“(A) smooth, fast paced and clever show” Theatre People

GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! was the first Off-Broadway transfer for the acclaimed New York comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. It has gone on to delight audiences around the world and is an expertly crafted piece of comedy that appeals to almost anyone with a heartbeat and a (slightly twisted) sense of humour.

More info: www.ptt.wa.gov.au
Email: Cameron.lansdowngoodman@gmail.com

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