[title of show] is a musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell. The musical documents its own creation by two Broadway fans, who want to enter the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It follows the team's struggle to complete the show in three and a half weeks with the help of their two actress friends. The actors are also the writers and characters of the musical.
[title of show] was first seen in 2004, at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in New York City. After a few other performances, it ran off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2006, earning a second limited run the same year. It played at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre in 2008 for 13 previews and 102 regular performances, closing on October 12, 2008. The writer-stars, Bowen and Bell, as well as director Michael Berresse all won Obie Awards for their work on the off-Broadway production, and Bell was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book for the show but did not win.
The musical spawned a recurring video blog about the show's journey to Broadway called The [title of show] show.
[title of show] was conceived by friends Bowen and Bell during the spring of 2004 when Bell received an announcement for submissions to the first inaugural New York Musical Theatre Festival. With the deadline three weeks away, Bell began drafting the script with Bowen writing the lyrics and music. Because the Festival only required a copy of the script and just four songs on the CD (and due to time constraints), Bowen wrote lyrics without any intended melody into the script, planning to finish the songs later. Nevertheless, many of these lyrics have remained intact through several incarnations and revisions to the show.
Bowen and Bell, determined to write an original musical rather than adapt a play or movie to be a musical, discovered almost immediately that their conversations about what to write were more interesting than the ideas they were coming up with for an original show. As the idea to document the creation of the show itself became clearer (or as the show states, "a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical"), after the show was accepted by the Festival, Bell and Bowen expanded the script based on their writing experiences with friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff. [title of show]] has since become a post-modern work-in-progress, with updates and changes to each new production reflecting the circumstances the cast and the show have experienced. Larry Pressgrove, the musical director for [title of show] in all of its productions, is also credited as orchestrator.
The first performance of [title of show] occurred at the Manhattan Theatre Source in the summer of 2004. It was produced by Laura Camien and ran for three performances. The cast for the Manhattan Theatre Source production included Bowen, Bell, Blackwell and Stacia Fernandez playing the role of "Stacia".
The production premiered at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival on September 22, 2004 (also produced by Camien), at the Belt Theatre, and ran for six performances. According to director Michael Berresse in an interview with Downstage Center XM28 on Broadway Radio in August 2008, Fernandez accepted several job offers (including the understudy role to Beth Leavel in the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone), and was unable to play and develop the role of Stacia for the Festival productions. Heidi Blickenstaff was brought in to play the role of Stacia for the Festival performances. In all productions following the Festival performances, the character of Stacia was rewritten about the character/persona of Heidi and Blickenstaff's experiences while helping expand and create the show.
As part of a recurring plot device, Bowen and Bell convinced several Broadway stars to leave recorded phone messages rejecting Bell and Bowen's offers to star in their show. Phone messages left by Broadway stars in the Festival performances included Idina Menzel, Marin Mazzie, Sutton Foster and Emily Skinner. Kevin McCollum agreed to produce [title of show] after seeing it performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
After a year of expansion and revision, including updates and performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, six further performances were given off-off Broadway at Ars Nova in New York City in September 2005. Phone messages in the Ars Nova production were left by Marin Mazzie and Emily Skinner again, with new messages from Amy Spanger and Victoria Clark. The success of these performances led to an offer by the Vineyard Theatre of a limited off-Broadway run.
[title of show] was performed at the Vineyard Theatre from February 26, 2006 to April 24, 2006 as part of the theatre's regular season line-up. However, before the end of the run, The Vineyard announced an extension of the production that returned the cast to the Vineyard from July 14, 2006 through October 1, 2006, with McCollum continuing as lead producer. Christine Ebersole lent her voice on one of the phone messages left in the Vineyard production. The production won three Obie Award Special Citations for its writer-stars and its director.
Changes from the New York Musical Theatre Festival production to the off-Broadway production included the addition of the songs, "Monkeys and Playbills", "What Kind of Girl is She?", "Festival Medley/September Song", "Secondary Characters" and "Nine People's Favorite Thing". The song "The Wall", originally sung by Jeff and Heidi at the Festival, was rewritten as a solo for Heidi with new lyrics, and the title was changed to "A Way Back to Then". Changes to the book included the addition of the conflict between Susan and Heidi (as introduced by "What Kind of Girl Is She?") and the combined music and scenes "Awkward Photo Shoot" and "Change It, Don't Change It". Both reflected the tension among the cast members that had begun to set in since the Festival's performance and their uncertainty about an off-Broadway run.
A performance was scheduled to play in San Francisco in 2008 but was canceled because of time constraints in moving the show to Broadway by July 2008. The show's transfer to Broadway is chronicled in "the [title of show] show" video blogs on YouTube and on the show's official web site.
The musical began previews on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on July 5, 2008 and officially opened on July 17. It closed October 12, 2008 after 13 previews and 102 performances. It was produced by McCollum, Roy Miller (producer of The Drowsy Chaperone), The Vineyard Theatre, Laura Camien and Kris Stewart, the founder of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The entire off-Broadway cast continued in the same roles, and Berresse continued as director. Added to the list of phone messages in the Broadway production was the voice of Patti LuPone. Scenic design was by Neil Patel, costumes by Chase Tyler and lighting by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz.
The show won a 2009 Broadway.com Audience Award for Favorite Ensemble Cast.