Brandon Wilhelm and Jovane Caama&ntilde;o in&nbsp;<em>Gutenberg! The Musical!</em>

Review: Gutenberg! The Musical! | Amphibian Stage Productions

Dear Bigshot Broadway Producer

Jill Sweeney has a recommendation for you: Gutenberg! The Musical!, as seen in Amphibian Stage Productions' third go with this show.

published Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Photo: Evan Michael Woods
Brandon Wilhelm and Jovane Caamaño in Gutenberg! The Musical!




Memo re: Gutenberg! The Musical!

Amphibian Stage Productions

To: Bigshot Broadway Producer

From: Junior Bigshot


As requested, I attended the backer’s audition for Doug Simon (Jovane Caamano) and Bud Davenport (Brandon Wilhem)’s hot new production, Gutenberg! The Musical!, hosted by Amphibian Stage Productions. My takeaway? Wow! Hit city! Truly, a revelation—like a newer, fresher Hamilton, but without all the downer numbers and the obsession with historical accuracy. But I know we’ve discussed before that you prefer a more “measured” take on possible projects, so I thought I’d put together a quick pro-and-con list so you can get a full picture of why we should absolutely throw our money into this money pit—by which I mean the bottomless pit of these show creators’ talent! Hope that’s not a confusing metaphor! Anyway, here goes:

Pro: Bud and Doug. I mean, wow! These guys can do it all—write lyrics, compose music, and manage to come up with a story that touches on practically every musical genre: rock ballad, charm song, music-hall…I mean, they hold together so seamlessly! And Bud and Doug don’t let the fact that the two of them are portraying a cast of over two dozen hold them back—they’ve ingeniously designed hats with the names of the show’s characters printed on them (Beef Fat Trimmer, Anti-Semitic Girl, Bootblack, etc.) so they can move effortlessly between parts, even when performing full-cast kick line! I’m almost inclined to say we should keep the hats even when we transition into a full production—I mean, think of the merch! I’m seeing teenagers on the subway wearing “Old Black Narrator” hats, for sure—so edgy! Bud and Doug even give helpful explanations of various theatrical conventions for all the “newbs” in the audience—even I learned a thing or two!

Con: Bud and Doug won’t be performing in the actual production. Also, might be some tension brewing between them, which maybe not everyone could sense, but I’ve kind of got a radar for these things—hopefully Doug’s unrequited feelings for Bud don’t spill over and affect their working relationship!


Pro: The show itself. I mean, I know I say this a lot, but—wow! Who knew the story of the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in 1430 could be so compelling! Especially once Bud and Doug (so smart!) chose to let their imaginations run wild, and really focus on the “fiction” aspect of historical fiction. So, really: who cares if Gutenberg was really a wine presser, aided by buxom wench Helvetica, before the tragic illiteracy of his fellow townspeople in Schlimer, Germany inspired him to turn his wine press into a printing press (and in only one night, too!)? And who cares if the evil old town Monk (whose Southern accent is amazing, and such a bold choice!) really used Helvetica’s unrequited love for Gutenberg to trick her into destroying Gutenberg’s press, thus causing a chain of events by which Gutenberg is burned at the stake by the enraged, and still tragically illiterate, townspeople of Schlimer? And even more who cares if references to the Holocaust don’t make any sense given that it occurred hundreds of years after the time Gutenberg was alive? I trust our audience, and I think we can safely assume they’ll be too swept away by this tragic but hopeful story, and won’t be sitting there sweating the small stuff, am I right?

Con: The inevitable Hamilton comparisons. I think this is secretly a pro—I mean, we all love Hamilton, but it’s like, we get it, Lin: you’ve read books. How about you focus on telling a good story and not blowing smoke up Ron Chernow for 10 minutes, huh?


Pro: The direction. So, Bud and Doug worked with director David A. Miller to bring their vision to life, and it’s nice for a change to see a director who’ll really just step back and let the creators really take the reins. The boys (I know, so casual—I just feel like I know them so well after seeing the show!) were accompanied by Amphibian Musical Director Rebecca Lowrey on piano, who—wow!—was fantastic, and not all showboat-y like some pianists I could name (you know it’s true, Roger). When we move the show to Broadway, I think we should definitely see about bringing her along, as long as she doesn’t ask for too much money, in which case, she’s good, but, like, there’s other piano-playing fish in the sea, am I right? Don’t get a big head, Rebecca.

Con: Production values. Props-wise, I love how minimalistic things were: the boxes labelled “wine press”, then “printing press”, then eventually “rubble”. I mean, let’s cut costs where we can, right? But, and this is a small thing, I felt like maybe the use of Doug’s taxidermied cat as a prop was, like, a bit morbid? I love my pets as much as the next person, and I’d be devastated to lose even one of my birds, but I’m worried it might offend some people? Your call. (Oh, also, forgot to mention above—I really think the “Dead Baby” character could be a breakout star for the show. Maybe we could talk Bud and Doug into expanding his final solo? Put a pin in it.).


Pro: Bud and Doug are hungry for success. I really think they’ll work to push the show to the next level if we back them—I mean, we might even convince Bud to drop his Senior Barista position at Starbucks if we play our cards right, and if we can match the benefits package (I know, right—I wish I had that dental coverage!)

Con: Other interested parties. This is a big one—so I definitely wasn’t the only producer looking to climb on board the Gutenberg train. It looked like Bud and Doug might’ve already gotten some nibbles (no surprise there). But I think if we could sweeten the pot, they might reconsider, but we’ve got to move fast! Amphibian’s hosting a few more backer’s auditions, so I’m hopeful that the boys are on the hunt for a better offer—I’d recommend you not miss the next opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what will undoubtedly be, and I don’t think I’m overstating things, the most culturally significant musical of the 21st century (take that, Hamilton!).

Also, should I submit my receipts to Marcie? Might’ve gone a little overboard on the champagne at the after party, but hey—that’s show business, right? Thanks For Reading

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Dear Bigshot Broadway Producer
Jill Sweeney has a recommendation for you: Gutenberg! The Musical!, as seen in Amphibian Stage Productions' third go with this show.
by Jill Sweeney

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