Honorable mentions: “An Original Musical,” “Two Nobodies in New York”
[title of show]‘s appeal is that it is endlessly self-aware. “It’s a show about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical!” is the joyous, Escherian tagline. But there’s a worry. At one point, Hunter confides to Susan that he’s concerned that the show is a little “doughnuts for dinner,” that it sounds like a good idea but then you want something “a little meatier.” Susan deflects his concern. “Like a tiny asteroid is a little meteor?” They both laugh. Hunter’s still worried. Susan’s stopped listening.
[title of show] is the very picture of doughnuts for dinner, the rare musical that probably would have been better served by being a TV show on Starz or FX or something. It’s easy to get bored with the shtick: they want to do something different, Hunter and Jeff are gay, there are a lot of musicals and some of them have Toni Braxton in them even though she’s not a theater-lifer. [title of show] fills a very, very specific niche within the genre, which is a fascinating statement about a musical to begin with (seeing as if these things are to survive more than six months, they need to fill rooms and make money), and which limits how interesting it can be. Of course, being self-aware, the folks at [title of show] get that already.
The reason that [title of show] works is because of “Nine People’s Favorite Thing,” one of the last songs in the show, and the one that far more attractively expresses some thematic idea. (“Die, Vampire, Die!” is sort of the anthem for “You, too, can create something worthwhile!” and while there are fifteen-year-olds who need to hear that, the rest of us need to get on with doing worthwhile things.) It’s a curious song, though significantly less weird than, say, “Monkeys and Playbills” is; Hunter and Jeff sing the first half, more or less recounting the history of previous revolutionary musicals, and Heidi sings a verse about believing in the show, but then the tempo slows and Susan tells a story about a baking competition.
Susan, at age eight, has decided she’s going to compete in the cake-off, but she checks off a list of cakes that she can’t do. She ends up bringing Rice Krispie Treats to the “church bazaar.”
Most of the judges award the red velvet.
But one picks the Rice Krispie Treats.
Let our show be the Rice Krispie Treat.
I’d rather be
Nine people’s favorite thing
Than a hundred people’s ninth-favorite thing.
It’s a great metaphor, plenty odd enough to fit into this musical, but it is maybe the only moment that seems genuine. The show is so invested in not taking itself seriously that it protests too much; in this spot, though, the sarcastic edge is sanded off a little, and the personality that made the show attractive in the first place remains, the independent point of view that would rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth-favorite thing.
Within a year or so of the first off-off-Broadway performances of [title of show], then-Panic! at the Disco released their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. One of the first songs on the CD, “London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines,” repeats the following lines:
Make us it, make us hip, make us scene, or
Shrug us off your shoulders,
Don’t approve a single word that we wrote.
It’s not precisely the same feeling, but the presumption is similar. Better to love us than to like us, and better to not care at all than to only be a little bit on our side. It’s a borderline obnoxious thought – I’m not in the habit of being told how much to like something – but there’s something really honest happening, at least in that one verse, of “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.” It’s the meatiest part of the whole musical.