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Bewitched and befuddled by [title of show]

In case you thought conceiving, writing and producing a Broadway-bound musical was easy or merely fun, try doing all of that with a room full of people watching.

Jeff and Hunter, the writers of the show that's within the show called "[title of show]," now at MusicalFare, are in a pickle. They don't know how to write the musical that's within the musical they're in about writing a musical, with clarity and originality.

The show is enticing and original in ways that few others about the theater are. Everything about the show, from its creation to its production, is explained on stage. The musical breeds itself in front of you. The opening number is called "Untitled Opening Number." The last line of their show is "the last line of our show."

Just when you think, "This feels like a Rubik's Cube," a character mentions a Rubik's Cube. When you wonder if the abundant, unapologetic vulgarity is going to cause the older ladies next to you to boil, another asks whether such language is necessary.

The layers of self-awareness here are at "Inception" levels, sometimes nauseatingly so. But all is tempered by a heavy dose of humor ripped from the mouths of today's self-mocking, fake-accent-speaking, ironic youth. And it's hilarious.

Jeff (Steve Copps) and Hunter (Marc Sacco) are besties with their own secret language of Broadway fandom. They make watching 90 continuous minutes of two kids kvetching about how making art is hard an endearing and adorable experience. You root for their stage dreams to come true, even if you want to slap them with the help-wanted section in the meantime.

It's a different take on the tortured artist tale from the gut-wrenching pathos in "A Chorus Line" or the insufferable whining in "Sunday in the Park With George," two classics on the creative life that could bookend the 21st-century pee-your-pants glee of this little musical.

Jeff, Hunter and their friends Susan (Lisa Ludwig) and Heidi (Michele Marie Roberts) are in fact the real-life creators of "[title of show]," which began at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004, before moving off-Broadway and later onto Broadway in a short-lived 2008 run. In all of those productions, and in this year's anticipated London transfer, the four friends played themselves.

Here, the show suffers a noticeable loss of excitement by the fact that different actors are playing these friends. Even with wonderful readings from Copps, Sacco, Roberts and Ludwig, these four can't come off as authentic as the real people who created, and were, these characters. In their absence are put-on performances that lack candor and spontaneity. Their high stakes -- go to Broadway or go back to cater-waitering -- are lowered.

But then, maybe there isn't a way for this show to not work, given its multitude of entry points. It's about the show being itself, which is, itself, a head-scratching game of postmodernism. Your list of questions on the way to the car will keep you busy after you arrive home. Why didn't they just write a normal show? Don't they get confused on stage? What happened after the last line of their show?

Eventually, it kicks in: What did we just see?

***

"[title of show]"    

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)    

Tony-nominated musical presented by MusicalFare Theatre on the Daemen College campus, 4380 Main St., Amherst; through March 6; call 839-8540 or go to www.musicalfare.com.

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