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Quill Theatre’s “Gutenberg! the Musical!” provides an affectionate and incisive satire of Broadway formula

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Johann Gutenberg is an unlikely subject for a Broadway musical. He was a blacksmith in medieval Germany and inventor of one of the most important technologies in human history, one that spread literacy across Europe and ushered in the Renaissance: the printing press.

While Gutenberg is a fascinating historical figure, nothing about his life seems dramatic enough for Broadway.
No matter. "Gutenberg! the Musical!" isn't really about the man behind the printing press.
Bud and Doug, two two characters in this play and the creators of "Gutenberg! the Musical!" are less concerned with historical fact than they are with impressing a Broadway producer into backing their project. The result is hilariously bad, and although they're too obtuse to realize it, Bud and Doug have created an incisive satire of Broadway's seemingly endless appetite for shallow, formulaic musicals.

Developed by Scott Brown and Anthony King, the musical debuted at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre for the 2005 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Under Jan Guarino's direction, the Quill production of this scrappy comedy demonstrates that you don't need a lot of fancy technical elements if your script and actors are funny and energetic.

Leilani Fenick's musical direction is the heart and soul of this show, and, as Bud and Doug, respectively, Paul S. Major and Chris Hester exude infectious energy throughout. Both are skilled comedians and capable singers, even as they play it all so comically bad.

Bud and Doug are a pair of misguided buffoons, but they're also likable and endearing for all the thought they've put into their terrible musical. As the two of them describe their vision for the finished production, red-faced from frantically belting out harmonies while dancing and parading a series of hats onstage in place of the cast they can't yet afford, it's apparent that their musical is at once completely ridiculous and exactly what we'd expect from a hit Broadway musical.

Because musicals are all a little ridiculous, aren't they? The way we distill and repackage complex human stories to fit them into song and dance routines is, at its core, rather reductive. Bud and Doug's musical is truly awful, but in many ways it is also quite similar to award-winning shows like "Les Miserables," "1776," "Evita" and, yes, even "Hamilton."

Audiences heading out to see "Gutenberg! the Musical!" should not go into the show expecting anything profound or even remotely educational. This is a comedy in the vein of Mel Brooks' "The Producers," an affectionate roast of the Broadway musicals we all know and love, with two talented actors performing at their comedic peak. S

Quill Theatre's "Gutenberg! the Musical!" runs until Nov. 3 at the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse at the Dominion Energy Center. Tickets cost $22-$32. quilltheatre.org.

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