It would be easy and perhaps too simplistic to link this chamber musical, which was recently extended through April 30 at the Vineyard Theater, with the likes of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical and Forbidden Broadway, because of the shameless way that it courts the funnybones of theater geeks. And yes, the more you know about theater, the funnier this show will probably be. But while those other shows are built almost entirely on parodies of musical theater past and present, [title of show] actually manages to be a deeper work and more accessible to the average viewer, partly because it wears its heart on its sleeve so much. The understanding you get after seeing this show is that to poke fun at Broadway and its millieu is to secretly love all its eccentricities and personalities. It's more proof that you can be post-modern and still keep your ideals.
The show, which is an elaborate self-referential riff on two guys and their two female friends rushing to complete a musical in three weeks, manages to create a few touching moments of nostalgia for childhood dreams of the dramatic life without falling entirely into sappiness. Just when you think the show is going to get un-self-consciously cliche, it cracks the right joke, and likewise, before those worries about the work becoming a pile of fluff and nothingness, the players find just the right heartstrings to pull. Heidi Blickenstaff especially deserves credit for a scene-stealing turn in the number "A Way Back to Then," which sort of sneaks up on you, and makes you sit there and enjoy listening to a wonderful ballad sung well. (They tricked us!)
All that said, there are so many theater references flying by in the text, the music and the staging, that it's hard to know how many there really are. Among the more notable ones: the Cats cell-phone ring; the answer-machine messages a la Rent from Broadway divas like Victoria Clark and Marin Mazzie; references to the original Annie, Andrea McArdle; the scene that immitates the finale to Into the Woods; shoutouts to Comden and Green, the creators of Wonderful Town; mentions of the three great S's: Shakespeare, Sondheim and Sedaris; and so many other jokes that are funny because they seem so familiar even if I couldn't place them immediately in the history of musical theater. Overall, a great show, and well worth the standing ovation it got at tonight's performance.