Gutenberg! The Musical

Original  Off-Broadway Cast, 2009 (PS Classics) 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5) Scott Brown and Anthony King developed this two-person comic gem about two composers writing a musical. The fictional writers have created a show portraying Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press to help a town’s illiterate populace. This recording features in the roles of the two aspiring writers Christopher Fitzgerald as Bud Davenport and Jeremy Shamos as Doug Simon. Bud and Doug are very sincere, but their show is very bad. Nevertheless, they are pitching it to audiences and (they hope) to “famous Broadway producers.” Unfortunately, since this is just a reading and they don’t have a cast yet,  Bud and Doug are forced to play all of the parts themselves, including the title role as well as an evil monk, a lovely young woman (aptly named Helvetica), and all of the other various townspeople. This potentially confusing premise is kept afloat by distinctive performances from Fitzgerald and Shamos, who take on unique accents and personas for each of the characters. On stage, the actors would don hats bearing the character names or descriptions to help make it clear to the audience whom they were playing at any given moment, speedily switching from one to another, and while these visual gags can’t be seen on the recording, it’s a credit to the duo that listeners could almost forget that this was a two-person show when listening through the cast album. While the material is enjoyable, it is slight; the comedy is hit-or-miss, and there are crass jokes about dead babies, anti-Semitic flower girls, and even suicide. In the end, the songs most often prompt unfavorable comparisons to other scores: for example, Urinetown comments on itself more cleverly, while [title of show] breaks the fourth wall more effectively. Still,  the “plot” of Gutenberg! The Musical  is delightfully wacky,  crazy enough to keep you laughing but just grounded enough to make you think that someone out there might possibly think the show within this show would be a good idea. — Forrest Hutchinson

Broadway Cast, 2024 (Broadway Records) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The first Broadway production of Gutenberg!  reunited former Book of Mormon co-stars Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, giving them another excellent vehicle to showcase their comedic chemistry and range. As is typical when an Off-Broadway show goes to Broadway, there were some things lost, some things gained. This cast album is longer than the Off-Broadway recording, which at 58 minutes in length was already threatening to outwear its welcome. The additional 10 minutes of material  to be found here strain a listener’s goodwill. On the other hand, the spoken dialogue that’s included has been cleverly modified to address listeners to the recording rather than live audience members, and the new jokes are mostly an improvement over those in the previous iteration. Most likely, one’s enjoyment of this album will be closely linked to one’s affinity for Rannells and Gad. They are appropriately earnest as Bud and Doug. and fully committed to each of their bit parts. The best songs are Helvetica’s love ballad, “I Can’t Read,” which contains some expert comedy lyrics; the stereotypical Act 1 Finale, “Tomorrow Is Tonight”; and the deliciously evil “Monk With Me.”  On Broadway, the show featured different celebrity guest stars at each performance,  playing the famous Broadway producer who offers Bud and Doug their Broadway contract. Mel Brooks was chosen to appear in that brief role on the album, and he’s a wonderful choice for it. — F.H.