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Schtick uptick ; Musical comedies find their way to local theaters

It's meta-musical week in Buffalo.

On Wednesday, MusicalFare Theatre opens its production of "[title of show]," a musical about four friends in the process of writing a musical. And already running in the ALT Theatre is the schtick-laden "Gutenberg! The Musical!," about two clueless guys writing their own ill-advised musical about the inventor of the printing press.

Whatever the impetus for the recent uptick in post-ironic musicals about musicals -- which has deep roots in films like "Singin' in the Rain," "The Producers" and countless Broadway shows -- the comic potential is inexhaustible.

For Loraine O'Donnell, who directs "Gutenberg!," the meta-musical approach is a perfect opportunity for dramatic irony to crystallize. (Flashback to high school English class: when the audience knows what's up but the characters are clueless.)

"Gutenberg!" is a case study in that time-tested comic approach. It's the brainchild of Scott Brown and Anthony King, two New York City-based writers and former dramaturgs who had seen hundreds of patently absurd proposals for musicals pass across their desks.

The show began as a one-act piece at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. It stars Bud and Doug (Tim Newell and David Butler) as good-natured but largely talentless dopes who have penned a musical about the inventor of the printing press.

The show's appeal, O'Donnell said, comes as much from its outright schtick as from the raw ambition of its characters and what they have in common with creative people everywhere.

"The great thing about these two guys is the fact that they believe in their show so much. They love the idea, they love making music, but they're novices and they think they're professionals," O'Donnell said. "They just make all these horrible choices So more than anything, it's really about the creative spirit and why we all do what we do."

With Newell and Butler, a comic duo familiar to habitues of the Buffalo theater scene, O'Donnell said she had to constantly remind them not to follow their instincts to act well. The characters of Bud and Doug, she said, require only the most hackneyed acting tricks and bits of stock choreography. Otherwise the humor falls apart.

"It's been a challenge, but I'll tell you, once we kind of got into that track, then the ideas actually started coming faster and more furiously," O'Donnell said of Newell and Butler's approach to the characters. "That's been the joy of this, watching their devious little minds go, 'Well if that's bad, this'll be worse.'"

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

WHAT: "Gutenberg! The Musical!"    

WHEN: Through Feb. 5    

WHERE: ALT Theatre, 255 Great Arrow Ave.    

TICKETS: $15    

INFO: 464-7806 or www.alttheatre.com

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