Gutenberg is ridiculous and sublime with Moan and Payton
PINCKNEY, Mich.— If you are anxious over today’s unsettling headlines and the moral ambiguity of world leaders, you may find it comforting to visit a time long ago when things were much, much worse. Take, for example, the filthy, dank, and charmless 15th century village of Schlimmer, Germany, where the only two people rising above crippling illiteracy are Johannes Gutenberg and a Satan worshipping-monk.
That’s the premise of Gutenberg! The Musical!, a play-within-a-play two-hander by Scott Brown and Anthony King. It’s a love song to musical theatre, albeit in parody format. The show features Doug and Bud (brilliantly portrayed by David Moan and Richard Payton) as playwrights desperate to bring their new musical to Broadway. Their motives are selfless – it’s clear they believe the deep insights offered by “Gutenberg!” address the world’s most thorny problems. We are treated to their staged reading of the musical comedy in which they frantically play all the parts and pedantically explain the exposition between musical numbers. We quickly learn that they are pitching the show to the big-bucks Broadway producers seated among us – people of both means and discernment who will undoubtedly make their dreams come true.
Doug and Bud’s self-congratulatory enthusiasm for the project is surpassed only by the paucity of their knowledge of Gutenberg, the Bible, and harsh reality. Does that discourage our two heroes? Of course not. As they explain in one of many asides to the audience, historical fiction is fiction that’s true. Probably. For Doug and Bud, the scant historical evidence regarding Gutenberg gives them carte blanche to indulge their personal fantasies.
Their musical account of how Johannes Gutenberg single-handedly invents the printing press (overnight) to defeat ignorance and evil unfolds as a guileless send-up of every cheesy musical convention. Directed by The Dio’s Artistic Director, Steve DeBruyne, Moan and Payton bring so much more to this show than is strictly required of the script. They are gymnastic clowns. They are authentic posers. They are singers with remarkable vocal range, subtle emotional dynamics, and downright gorgeous voices. And whether they are singing about the evil lurking in the haunted woods, the pleasures of eating biscuits, or the illusive power of literacy, it is all irresistible fun. Supporting them at the keyboard is Musical Director Brian E. Buckner, whose contribution adds immeasurably to the show’s success.
This play delivers something else that makes it distinctive. Doug and Bud’s knack for cataloging every trope in the “how-to-write-a-Broadway musical” textbook makes this outrageous comedy one that can be enjoyed by both enthusiasts and haters of the musical theatre. It plays like a series of ironic memes from high school drama club, complete with precious air quotes as they school the audience on hip theatre lingo, and reveal their own cleverness at wedging in big production numbers, a charm song, a kick line, and the requisite poignant stance regarding an Important Social Issue. (Doug and Bud bravely take a stance against the holocaust, which their research shows really did happen in Germany. Get the connection? And that’s why their play foreshadows the rise of antisemitism and WWII by 500 years. Mind blowing.)
Clearly, there is nothing about this play you are expected to take seriously, except its ability to surprise and delight. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Gutenberg! The Musical! runs through May 8th at The Dio in Pinkney, where dinner theatre is alive and well. For more information about securing reservations, dinner menus, and COVID precautions, visit their website.