Watching actors playing a bunch of actors is both endearing and tiresome. It’s a bit like watching little kids act: They’re cute, earnest and completely wrapped up in their own world. “(title of show),” which just opened at the brand-new Tacoma Actors Repertory Theatre in the historic Armory building, is exactly in this mold: a musical about actors writing a musical, and while it’s extremely self-indulgent, the cast is skillful enough to tip the balance from irritating into amusing.
Four seasoned actors and a spot-on keyboardist (Gregory Smith, as the nonchalant Larry) turn the Armory basement theater into a New York apartment, where Hunter (a flamboyantly campy Zach Sanders) and the more thoughtful Jeff (a very sincere Joel Domenico) are planning to enter a musical-writing festival. Only they’re stuck for ideas — so they end up writing a musical about trying to write a musical. Pulling in two token female friends (a very funny Deya Ozburn as the geeky Susan and Amanda Norman as the sweet Broadway wannabe Heidi) to amp up the vocals and diversify the gayness, the musical continues its merry way through a complete lack of depth but some very clever jokes. It pokes fun at both other musicals through parodies, at actors themselves with character clichés, and at itself with self-aware songs (“Development Medley,” “Secondary Characters”) and self-referential lines like: “Susan, you’re very quiet.” “Only because I didn’t have a line until now.”
Despite having actually made it to Broadway and a Tony nomination, this play could end up being the kind of thing only other actors appreciate. But in the hands of a cast like this, it gets a little more dramatic integrity. Director Jen Tidwell keeps a brisk but not frantic pace, the characters are well-contrasted and convincing in their real-world problems (frustration at your job, a longing for childhood, betrayal of trust), and there’s some amusing choreography and physical comedy.
The singing is perhaps the weakest part: It’s not an acoustically friendly room, and without the usual amplification only Ozburn seemed really secure pitch-wise. (Slightly increasing keyboard volume might help here, plus a few more rehearsals on the harmony songs.) You also find yourself nodding in agreement as Hunter delivers self-deprecating lines like, “Do you think other people would want to see something like (this)?” and “A lot of our references are so obscure.”
But as the quartet sees its ad-hoc musical ride the rollercoaster of fame, you end up rooting for them, despite the childish navel gazing — and it definitely makes a welcome change from the standard chorus-line musicals everyone else is doing.
IF YOU GO
What: “(title of show)” by Jeff Bowen.
Who: Tacoma Actors Repertory Theater.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, Wednesday, Oct. 30, Nov. 5 and 7; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 8.
Where: Armory Building (back and downstairs), 715 S. 11th St., Tacoma.
Tickets: $25 general, $22.50 students and seniors.
Also: Runs alternately with “Three Viewings” by Jeffrey Hatcher.