Theater Review: “Gutenberg! The Musical!”

Tom Zohar and Anthony Methvin in “Gutenberg! The Musical!”
Photo credit:
Charlene Baldridge

“Stop the press!” has acquired a new meaning in “Gutenberg! The Musical.”

Gutenberg? The printing press guy? 

Yep, that one.

But this play isn’t really about Gutenberg, at least not in a biographical sense.

It’s about power, innocence, education and theater, all tied up in a frankly juvenile package illustrating how hard it is to write a good – or even a bad – musical.

Our protagonists are “innocents” Bud (Tom Zohar) and Doug (Anthony Methvin), described by writers Anthony King and Scott Brown as eager to please, naive, sweet and sincere as hell – not to mention utterly incompetent at the self-assigned task.

But with great optimism and hope, they present the show to this audience for the first time, hoping a big Broadway producer is in attendance. It’s shades of “The Producers,” except these guys really think their play will succeed.

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” plays through Sept. 4 at Diversionary Theatre, under the auspices of fledgling Backyard Renaissance Theatre.

The plot, such as it is, has Gutenberg, owner of a wine press, wondering why there is so much illiteracy in the little German town of Schlimmer. When somebody mentions that there are no books, the light dawns and Gutenberg decides to convert his wine press to a printing press so he can print multiple copies of the Gutenberg Bible.

Of course, the church (in the person of an evil Monk, played by Zohar) is opposed to this and moves to sabotage the Gutenberg project with the help of Gutenberg’s love, the young, pretty Helvetica (Zohar).

Bud and Doug helpfully explain that this never happened but they have to subvert history and sabotage the printing press if they want a second act for their play.

In the second act, Monk decides to (1) imprison Helvetica in a nasty tower with “rats and feces” and (2) try to co-opt Gutenberg (who doesn’t yet know the press has been ruined) to “Monk With Me” in order to keep the riff-raff from learning to read and interpret things for themselves. 

Eventually, this little epic ends with some of its dreams fulfilled and some not. Kind of like life.

Zohar and Methvin (a well-known married couple in these parts) work extremely hard in this non-stop piece, changing characters (some 30 in all) with the switch of a baseball cap emblazoned with the appropriate character’s name, singing and dancing and making merry with the parodies of theater conventions and structures. 

It doesn’t all pay off, but there’s a good play (or at least idea) in here somewhere. Maybe someone will find it one day.

Speaking of working, kudos to Musical Director Lyndon Pugeda, who does a mighty job as the overworked accompanist Charles, and to Director Kim Strassburger, who somehow gets it staged. 

The details

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” runs through September 4, 2016 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard.

Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: www.backyardrenaissance.com or (619) 220-0097