'Gutenberg the Musical' review: The Dio's latest will leave you in stitches
Courtesy of Michele Anliker photography
Do you have a firm understanding of the contributions to society or livelihood of German inventor, printer, and publisher Johannes Gutenberg? The 14th century creator of what would become the modern printing press? Well, if you do, The Dio’s hysterical send-up “Gutenberg the Musical” probably isn’t the first thing you’d want to source for an essay or presentation. Let’s just say, there’s some, uh, creative liberties taken with this piece of “historical fiction.” In what can basically be described as an extended variety show akin to something you might see on “Saturday Night Live,” “Gutenberg the Musical” is a laugh-out-loud riot and an interactive two-hander featuring sensational performances from Richard Payton and David Moan who carry the entire show on their back, wearing many hats. Literally.
“Gutenberg the Musical” follows the exploits of Doug and Bud (Moan and Payton) two struggling playwrights hoping to sell their latest sure-to-be-smash musical about Johannes Gutenberg to the audience (us) with the hopes a Broadway producer will give them a lucrative contract. For the ensuing two hours, Bud and Doug pitch the entirety of the show, which is an elaborate and dense odyssey about Gutenberg’s life in Germany and how he overcame adversity to create the first mass publishing machine. (We’re told most of the proceedings are true). But it’s up to us to envision the musical because Bud and Doug are two just pals looking for a break, so they don’t have a set, actors, or full orchestra. Though music director Brian E Buckner (working with music and lyrics by Anthony King and Scott Brown) provides his musical talents on the piano throughout the show playing Charles, someone who Bud and Doug probably snagged at the last second for their “pitch” meeting.
Moan and Payton come alive doing everything: setting the scene, location and then slipping in and out of several characters without blinking. From the young maiden, Helvetica (who was in love with Gutenberg) to a Satanist monk who throws pencils at his lackies, each character (and there are too many to count) clearly had their backstories fleshed out, with creative dialects and voice work, not to mention the infectious camaraderie shared among both performers, including the air-tight comedic timing and physicality, is something one review can’t do justice.
Moan and Payton sing, dance, and improvise whenever the script gives them the leeway although the show is already so conversational and smoothly staged (thanks to director Steve DeBruyne and choreographer Rachael Cupples), it’s tough to pinpoint what’s scripted or cooked-up inside the minds of these brilliant actors. I also enjoyed the simplicity of “Gutenberg the Musical” which doesn’t call for much other than a performing space, but Matt Tomich’s scenic work gives plenty of room for the performers to let their energy flow into the audience. And the musical interludes are a blast and sung to near comedic perfection, which won’t surprise anyone who saw Moan and Payton ham it up in The Dio’s production of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”
In between all the chaos, The Dio serves up their signature fried chicken and another delectable dessert to go along with your ticket purchase. Sure, “Gutenberg the Musical” might not have a name everyone knows, but it’s one folks should try to see. The intimate dinner theater setting is tailored for this experience and they’re many unforgettable one liners and running gags that left this critic howling. Obviously, these performers have been doing the show for two weekends, except I couldn’t help but feel the performance was specific to our crowd (you could easily go back multiple times and notice something different). Bud and Doug, I may not be a Broadway producer, but I think you (and The Dio) have a major, crowd-pleasing hit on your hands.
The Dio’s production of GUTENBERG THE MUSICAL continues through May 8th. You can make reservations here.