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Gutenberg! The Musical!

(L-R) Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells (Photo: Matthew Murphy)



Gutenberg! The Musical!

By Fern Siegel


Musical theater spins its own magic. And those caught by the bug, will do anything to perform it. That's the premise behind Gutenberg! The Musical! Now on Broadway at the James Earl Jones Theatre, the two-man production is notable largely for its stars: Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells.


The duo, who wowed Broadway in The Book of Mormon, are back showcasing their comedy chops, this time, as Bud (Gad) and Doug (Rannells), two earnest guys from Nutley, New Jersey. They are presenting - for one night only - their latest musical effort: Gutenberg! The Musical! (Their previous efforts included Stephen King! The Musical!)

Yes, they mean Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th-century inventor of the printing press, which led to the spread of literature throughout Europe. A key figure in history, the German inventor is credited with creating the process for mass-producing movable type. He is best known for publishing the Bible.

While Gutenberg may be an unusual subject for musical comedy, Scott Brown and Anthony King, responsible for book, music and lyrics, have merged his story with the musical's two delusional authors, creating an energetic show. They are backed by three members of Middlesex, New Jersey's premier wedding band, The Middlesex Six.


Or as Bud explains, "Gutenberg! is historical fiction. It's fiction that's true!" Silly? You bet. It's a thin show, set in the made-up town of Schlimmer, but an engaging one. That's thanks to Gad and Rannells, both masters of physical comedy, who are equally adept at projecting sincerity and pathos, often at the same time. True, they had to "sell a car to afford Broadway tickets," but musicals are everything to them, seeing, writing and performing.


Gutenberg! is just that: The pair rent a theater for a backer's audition and play all the parts in their wacky show, wearing various baseball caps sporting the names of different characters. From illiterate Helvetica, who works at Gutenberg's wine-press shop, to every drunk, monk and anti-Semite in the village, the pair zips through various roles while relaying the printing press' genesis. Plus, to ensure their musical has weight, they've chosen to address an important theme: anti-Semitism. (Not really, but it's part of the show-within-a-show explanation.)


En route, they also share personal details.


The two leads click, and their enthusiasm is contagious. They also like to instruct the audience on theatrical terms: motif, foreshadowing, the big 11 o'clock number. The latter, they explain, is crucial to a musical's success. A song so catchy, that "tween girls struggle to sing it in the shower."


Unfortunately, Gutenberg!, despite the audience's enjoyment, is too long. It's a one-act stretched into two. There are pleasant melodies and a few catchy numbers, but it doesn't hit any great comedic heights, however much director Alex Timbers tries.


The show originally debuted off-Broadway in 2006 and frankly, that's where it should stay. (Its authors were Tony-nominated for Beetlejuice on Broadway.) Part of the conceit of Gutenberg! is its intimate nature. It's occasionally funny and often nuts. But without any real takeaway, the pleasure is watching two accomplished comedic actors take center stage.

Gutenberg! the Musical! James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 W. 48 St.

Running time: 2 hours