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Modern’s show within a show pokes fun at theater

Hunter, Jeff, and their friends are on a journey through the gauntlet of creative self-expression. In the span of 90 minutes they write and perform their show at a festival and learn lessons about themselves as people, friends and artists. “[title of show]” is, above all, a love letter to the musical theatera uniquely American art formand to the joy of collaboration. Christina Coty (Susan) is in the purple, Alyssa Day (Heidy) in the multicolored dress, Todd Kehne (Jeff) is in green, and Jonah Taylor (Hunter) is in blue. (CHRIS WOOLEY / CHRIS WOOLEY)
Hunter, Jeff, and their friends are on a journey through the gauntlet of creative self-expression. In the span of 90 minutes they write and perform their show at a festival and learn lessons about themselves as people, friends and artists. “[title of show]” is, above all, a love letter to the musical theatera uniquely American art formand to the joy of collaboration. Christina Coty (Susan) is in the purple, Alyssa Day (Heidy) in the multicolored dress, Todd Kehne (Jeff) is in green, and Jonah Taylor (Hunter) is in blue. (CHRIS WOOLEY / CHRIS WOOLEY)

The quirky one-act musical “[title of show],” written by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, is about two guys named Jeff and Hunter as they barricade themselves in an apartment to write a quirky one-act musical. It’s the kind of show that literally writes itself as it goes along.

The meta comedy, directed by Troy Nickerson, opens the Modern Theater’s upcoming season in Spokane on Friday. It was originally intended to debut in the Modern’s new studio theater space, but construction delays have be moved the show to the former Ella’s Supper Club, itself in the process of renovations.

“I worked and actually performed there back in the day when it was Center Stage,” Nickerson said. “So I’m pretty familiar with the space, but it’s being redone and it’s beautiful. It’ll be set up like cocktail theater, cabaret style. … It’s the perfect show for that kind of a venue.”

As the musical opens, Jeff (Jonah Taylor) and Hunter (Todd Kehne) have made plans to submit an original piece to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, with the specific goal of crafting a production that merely requires four chairs and a piano. Realizing their writing process is more interesting than any drama they can manufacture, they drop themselves into their own work.

Their friends Heidi (Alyssa Day) and Susan (Christina Coty) are called in to provide feedback, and they also find their way into the script. Even Hunter and Jeff’s piano accompanist, Larry (played by associate music director Nathan Patrick Nelsen), becomes something of a character. And as the finished product, also called “[title of show],” makes its way from previews to Broadway stages, we see the central relationships begin to fray.

“It goes through their journey, how excited they are as they start to write this musical and as they get on each other’s nerves,” Nickerson said. “As it moves along, it becomes successful and it affects their relationship.”

The show really did start life as a festival piece and eventually got a 2008 Broadway run, with Bell’s book receiving a Tony Award nomination. The New York Times referred to “[title of show]” as “the class clown of Broadway,” and its many satirical swipes at shows both well-known and obscure should appeal to everyone’s inner theater geek.

“But if you’re not a theater person that understands all that, there’s still plenty of funny stuff,” Nickerson said. “It really celebrates what it means to be an actor, but it makes fun of what it means to be an actor. People that love theater will love it, and people that do theater will really love it.

“It’s just a really fun, entertaining evening. There’s something so great about going to a theater and being able to laugh for an hour and a half.”


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