By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Amphibian Stage Productions, performing at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, has a pair of guileless, immensely likable clowns in actors Stephen Balantzian and JP Matthews. They play Bud Davenport and Doug Simon, a Starbucks barista and nursing home worker who've written Gutenberg! The Musical and dream, Guffman-like, of taking it to the Great White Way. (It's their third try, having failed with Stephen King: The Musical and one about vampires.)
Performing for potential backers (us), they outline their vision. Every scene begins with some variation of "The stage is filled with doom...also fog." They jump in and out of characters identified by names ("Beef Fat Trimmer," "Old Monk") scrawled on trucker caps lined up on a shelf behind them and plopped onto their heads, sometimes four at a time.
The barebones show-about-a-show is a popular conceit right now. The Big Bang, produced twice in the past two years by Theatre Three, has two guys performing a musical history of civilization in 90 minutes. [title of show] features four friends on a bare stage writing a musical about writing a musical.
A Chorus Line continues through July 19 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Call 214-631-ARTS.
Gutenberg! The Musical continues through July 26 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Call 817-923-3012.
Gutenberg!, for all its silliness, pointedly sends up the wretched excesses of Les Miz and Phantom by having plague-carrying rats sing harmony and a dead baby—played by the actor wearing the cap marked "Dead Baby"—do a solo. A patter song with the lyrics "I want you deep inside me" is a tribute to biscuits. The finale is an anthem called "We Eat Our Dreams."
Balantzian and Matthews, better singers than they need to be to sell this material, strike just the right tone of dopey sincerity. Is it worth the drive west for Gutenberg! The Musical? Helvetica, yes.