Four Chairs and a Keyboard Make a Pretty Awesome Musical: A Review of Risley Theatre's [title of show]

Looking for something to do this weekend that doesn’t involve bar-hopping or simply wandering the streets of C-town? Do you crave something more than the mundane life of a student? Then, my friends, I wholeheartedly recommend [title of show], opening at Risley Theatre this Friday, 11/11. I was able to view a performance of it on Wednesday, allowing me to write you all this lovely review!

[title of show] is a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. And who doesn’t like musicals? The show follows Hunter and Jeff, two friends living in NYC, as they attempt to realize their dreams of writing an awesome musical by writing about, well just that. They bring in their two friends (Heidi and Susan) to join the fun and create what was actually a pretty popular Broadway show, developing a strong fan following (due partly to their web series, the [title of show] show).

I’ll admit, I was a little unsure of what to expect going in. I knew that [title of show] was becoming popular with college groups, but because the characters in the show were based on the people who actually played them (the real Jeff, Heidi, Susan, and Hunter), I wasn’t sure how Cornell actors would be able to portray them. Would it be the coolest thing ever, or just come off as awkward imitation?

I have to tell you, collegiettes, I was impressed. Once the actors got into their parts I was no longer watching four college kids imitate real life characters- they were able to develop them and make them their own. I was particularly impressed by Hunter (Danny Bernstein) and Jeff (Alex Quilty). Not only did these guys have awesome voices (particularly Alex… holy fish sticks, that kid can sing), they also made me feel way more for the characters than I expected.

The main drawback for the average collegiette? [title of show] is, while hilarious and topical, very much dependent on the audience’s knowledge of musical theatre. Not that you can’t enjoy the show or find laughter in it if you’re not a theatre geek, but it was definitely written for that audience. For example, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone except the people who created it the show is littered with more “Into the Woods” references than is actually healthy. (For those who don’t know, “Into the Woods” is a dark, twisted fairy tale musical by Stephen Sondheim.) Now, I’ve been in the pit orchestra for “Into the Woods” twice. I can not only recite most of the lines from the show, I can also hum you the underscore for every transition. So whenever a ridiculous “Into the Woods” reference was made, I pretty much died laughing. Unless you’re as nuts as I am, though, that probably will not happen to you and you may miss a fair number of jokes in the show.

Even if you don’t get all the references, though, the music is infectious, and the actors talented enough to carry me along on the journey with them. Like I said before I loved Danny Bernstein and Alex Quilty as Hunter and Jeff, and the two women were also played well by Tori Dahl (Susan) and Amanda Martin (Heidi). Both had excellent comedic timing and acted well off each other, as well as the boys. And besides all the endless laughs, the show also has heart. There were times where my heart was breaking for the characters (particularly in one beautifully played moment by Danny Bernstein- watch the show and you’ll know what I’m talking about) and times when I wanted nothing more to hop out of my chair and help them create a show.

Is it a perfect show? No, of course not. It is, after all, a student-run show, and at times it showed. Some of the choreography was a little ridiculous, and not all the jokes landed. I saw a dress rehearsal, and there were definitely spots that I knew the director was going to iron out until they were perfect (or as perfect as they could be, anyway.)

But the thing about [title of show] is that it isn’t supposed to be perfect. As the rehearsal I attended ran late, held up by lighting cues that they were still trying to work out, the stage manager joked to me, “It’s the process”. And that’s what [title of show] is, at its core- a peek into the life of a group of friends working through the creative process of making something they’re proud of. Whether they were singing about killing vampires to promote creativity, making obscure references to theatre, or just flying around in ridiculous dream sequences, the actors never let go of the idea that they were a group of friends having the time of their lives- and because of that, I was able to have a wonderful time too.

[title of show] will be playing Friday 11/11 at both 7:30 and 10 p.m. and Saturday 11/12 at 7:30 p.m in Risley Theatre. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.