When Mel Brooks’ The Producers made the jump from stage to screen in 2005, the result was mixed. Despite the Broadway production receiving acclaim and being nominated for a then record-breaking twelve Tony Awards, the film adaptation floundered, with many wondering if the show was “too stagey to work as a film”. Unfortunately, Lambert Jackson’s virtual iteration of [Title of Show] is likely to face the same reaction. There’s a lot to like about the production – metatextual wit, a charismatic cast, and superbly tight harmonies – but this is a play custom-built for the stage, and as a screen adaption, it just feels a bit inert.
Written in 2004 by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell as a last-minute submission for the New York Musical festival, the play is as self-conscious as they come; as on-stage Jeff (Marc Elliott) professes at one point, “I’m trying to write a musical about two guys trying to write a musical, about two guys trying to write a musical!” As he and Hunter (Tyrone Huntley) attempt to “win a Tony” with help from their two actor friends (Lucie Jones and Jenna Russell), they mirror the trajectory of the real-life [Title of Show] show, as they journey from writer’s room to festivals to off-Broadway to Broadway; it’s a musical about a musical about a musical, and it’s a lot of fun.
In fact, the defining schtick of [Title of Show] is all the metatextual nods it gives to the experience of writing a musical – stick with me here. Touching on writer’s block, producer’s notes, pitchy actors, artistic insecurity, and lousy reviews, the musical shrewdly lampshades it’s own existence, as if it’s whispering to the audience, “do you get the joke?”. Further stuffed with obscure Broadway references (there’s a whole number dedicated to the weird titles of forgotten musical gems) and fourth wall breaking direct addresses, the show is crafted especially for fans of the genre and for the stage itself… which is why this production by Lambert Jackson falls slightly short.
The production is by no means bad – between the vocal acuity of the cast and the sheer number of zingers packed into the script, it’s always going to be a good time – but it is indecisive. There are moments of inspired framing (like during What Kind of Girls is She?), but it often feels like a middling effort, as if the production doesn’t know whether it wants to be a film or a filmed bit of theatre. For every cool shot that director Josh Seymour finds, there is a form-specific joke that doesn’t quite land (“shouldn’t there be a transition?” has the exact same energy as “why Bloom go so far camera right?”).
Nevertheless, the cast do very well to offset this indecisiveness with chemistry and charisma – Lucie Jones, especially, lights up the screen with sparky enthusiasm and mesmerising vocals. Moreover, the witty wordplay is hard not to love (Hunter at one-point labels himself a “procrastibator” for getting distracted by porn), and infuses the production with a light-hearted energy that makes it an easy watch.
[Title of Show] is playing online until November 14. For more information and tickets see the London Coliseum website.