[title of show] is top notch

A brilliantly written comedy well performed in Tacoma

By Alec Clayton on October 22, 2015

I went to see [title of show] (brackets and lower case letters intentional) thinking it was the dumbest play title I had ever heard but also with the expectation, that based on what little I had heard about it, that it was probably going to be pretty good. It was, much, much better than pretty good. It was fantastic - smartly written and a top-notch performance by an outstanding ensemble cast.

The only cast member I knew going in was Daya Ozburn. The director, Jen Tidwell, and three of the four actors are new to Tacoma, and they all have impressive resumés and come to Tacoma Actors Repertory Theater from mostly Seattle theaters. Let's hope they become regulars down here.

Jeff (Joel Dominico) and Hunter (Zach Sanders) are actors who are not exactly winning the best roles in the world. Or any roles at all for that matter. So Jeff decides on a whim to write a musical he and his friends can perform, and he wants to enter it in a play festival. They recruit Susan (Ozburn) and Heidi (Amanda Norman) to help write and perform in his musical, which he titles [title of show] because that's what the blank on the festival competition asks for. That's a clue right off the bat that it's either going to be a brilliant parody or the dumbest play ever. In another stroke of genius (or stupidity?) he decides that the way to write it is simply to write down everything he and his friends say, and put it to music. For musical accompaniment, they recruit their friend Larry (Gregory Smith).

To everybody's surprise, the play gets accepted into the festival and is such a hit that they get a producer and open Off-Broadway to great success. Any further commentary on the plot would constitute a spoiler.

It is a brilliantly written comedy and a fun insider's look at the world of struggling actors - and playwrights, directors and even keyboardists (representative of all the key behind-the-scenes folks who are rarely applauded. And it is an insightful look into the hearts of people who yearn to succeed in show business, their insecurities and their dreams.

The musical is performed with minimal sets consisting primarily of four chairs and Larry's keyboard in the background. The music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen are upbeat, toe-tapping, feel-good tunes performed with gusto by the entire cast. The acting by all four is outstanding as they are each outlandishly expressive, and each in extremely personal ways. It is as if these four actors have taken almost stereotypical types and brought them to life as strong individuals.

There is also dancing that is hard to describe. All I can say about it is that it is not what you think of as dancing, but often odd movements that are fun to watch, including a bit where Ozburn plays airplane while the others push her around on a rolling chair and a surprising moment when Norman goes absolutely wild when she thinks the guys aren't watching (choreography by Kendra Pierce).

[title of show] is contemporary musical theater that proves you don't need big Broadway-type sets and full orchestras and lavish production numbers to bring the house down. It's small scale, intimate, and as enjoyable as anything you might see this year.

Tacoma Actors Repertory Theater is a brand new theatrical group. They opened their first season (hopefully the first of many) with the critically and popularly successful Three Viewings. For the holidays, they will present Dickens' A Christmas Carol, performed by guest artist Byron Tidwell as a one-man show. It will run in repertory with the comedy The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate's Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production of a Christmas Carol by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr. That's a mouth full, and the title alone makes me want to see it.

I can't recommend [title of show] highly enough. Tacomans should welcome TARP with open arms and standing ovations.

[title of show], 8 p.m., Oct. 22, 24, 28, 30, and Nov. 5 and 7, 2 p.m., Oct. 25, 31, and Nov. 8, $22.50-$25, The Historic Tacoma Armory, 715 S. 11th St., Tacoma, online tickets at tacomarep.org