Review: Comedy is howlingly good throughout

By Bob Fischbach, The Omaha World-Herald  03.28.2015

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Settle in, big Broadway producers. Bud Davenport and Doug Simon have a musical they want to pitch to you.

That’s the premise for The Candy Project’s “Gutenberg! The Musical!,” which opened Friday at the Pizza Shoppe in Benson. The audience becomes the producers. Bud and Doug are nothing if not earnest and energetic as they play all the parts in their show, literally switching hats so you know who they’re playing at all times.

Thing is, Bud and Doug have little talent for writing a musical. They mangle the history of the inventor of the movable-type printing press to hilarious effect. All the while they explain the musical-theater devices they have cleverly employed in the telling of the tale. Their plot turns and lyrics are so bad, they’re howlingly good.

Director Randall Stevens has cast two of Omaha’s favorite comedic actors, Dan Chevalier as Bud and Steve Krambeck as Doug, and the material is perfectly suited to their strongest talents. These guys can really sing, and their voices blend beautifully.

They’re also pretty decent hoofers, and the choreography punches the laugh-inducing lyrics like one of those exclamation points in the title.

But their forte is comedy: line delivery, physical humor and finely honed timing that had me doubled over all evening long. Their facial expressions are priceless.

Because the show is staged as a simple “read” for financial backers, it’s done in street clothes, with minimal props and a set that consists of little more than a couple of boxes to stand or sit on and a long table filled with those labeled hats. It’s the perfect show for the Pizza Shoppe’s tiny stage.

Bud and Doug take us back to the town of Schlimmer, Germany, in 1450. Gutenberg runs a wine press. His grape stomper, Helvetica, is in love with him.

The villain of the piece, an evil Monk, wants the Bible to “mean whatever I say it means.” When Gutenberg converts his wine press to a printing press, Monk wants Helvetica to sabotage it.

A song explains how Monk killed his daddy when he was young. “That’s called character development,” they tell us.

Helvetica’s love ballad? A standard device called an “I want” song.

Why did they throw in a number about how they love biscuits? It’s to charm you when the story gets too heavy.

And what is foreshadowing? “Well … I’ll tell ya later,” Doug promises.

The boys have plenty of fun with word play.

And the audience has just as much fun drinking in Krambeck’s and Chevalier’s version of broad, goofy comedy.

Keyboardist Sara Collins gamely plays along, and the fun lasts less than 100 minutes, including intermission. For me, it was one of the funniest shows of the season.

BWW Reviews: GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!

Hold Onto Your Hats!

By Christine Swerczek, Broadway World.com 03.30.2015

BWW

GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! is ridiculous! Cathy Hirsch (the Candy Project) assembled a whole cast of zany characters within two award-winning actors- Dan Chevalier (Bud Davenport +others) and Steve Krambeck (Doug Simon +others). These two guys wear a multitude of hats (literally and figuratively) in this two act musical by Anthony King and Scott Brown. The story centers on Bud’s and Doug’s scant research of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. Fast paced, satiric, and just plain stupid fun, this production is a sure hit, particularly combined with good beer and great pizza at Pizza Shoppe Collective in Omaha.

The cornerstone of this musical is two guys, Bud (a virgin looking for a wife) and Doug (a gay man), working together to sell their concept of a musical to any producer who may be out in the audience. While pitching their ideas, they weave in theatrical constructs such as “you must have a serious reason behind the story…such as the Holocaust”, and character development (you must know WHY the devil is evil.) Their work is historical fiction, meaning “it’s fiction that’s true.”

Act One Scene One begins with a serious reason for their musical: a dead baby, represented by a ball cap labeled “Dead Baby” tossed onto the floor. The baby is needlessly dead all because the baby’s illiterate father fed him jellybeans instead of medicine since he couldn’t read the label. He cradles the baby in his illiterate arms and sings, “If only I could read.” Here is their motivation for the development of a printing press.

The love interest enters the story. Helvetica (she’s so important, they named a font after her) stomps the grapes in Gutenberg’s wine press and sings a love ballad, which Bud and Doug call the necessary “I want” song in musical theater.

The evil Monk keeps his henchman, Young Monk, away from the Bible, and advises it’s best to “take in the church and keep the people dumb.” Meanwhile, the Anti-Semitic flower seller pops in from time to time to add tension.

Gutenberg recalls his inner Elvis and sings about changing the press from making wine into a machine to make words. “The wine press makes you drink while the other makes you think,” he says.

One of the funniest parts of the show is when Young Monk is sprayed in the face with a squirt bottle during a rain scene with another agonized “I Can’t Read” song. He suffers a pencil attack from the abusive Monk and they collaborate on a “charm song” about biscuits. What’s a charm song, you may ask? According to Bud and Doug, it is a break from watching anything that anyone may care about. It also allows bringing in a big person for a tiny part.

Parts of this silliness hint at other productions. Speaking the name Johannes Gutenberg in a low voice, clearly and distinctly, into the microphone suggests “25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE,” which is appropriate as Dan Chevalier was a huge hit as Leaf Coneybear in the Omaha Community Playhouse production a few years ago. The necessary love ballad reminds me of SPAMALOT’s “The Song That Goes Like This.” There are bits of irony and clever humor everywhere. They use metaphors, because metaphors are used to “say one thing and mean something else, but not lying.” The guys assure the audience that history is sometimes changed so the story can continue. Every musical ends with a big rock song. And the second act needs a big opening number.

There’s a serious discussion about suicide…well, as serious as these two can get. And a chorus line…with many hats. An audience sing-along about eating dreams, a duet with rats; this musical has it all. It’s all pulled off magnificently by these two actors, with excellent support from the pianist, Sara Collins (Charlie), director Randall T. Stevens, music director Timothy Vallier, stage manager Devon Adams, and producer Cathy Hirsch.

Hats off to everyone involved in this brilliant piece of entertainment!

Hold On to Your Hats

The Candy Project Returns to Benson.

BY WILLIAM GRENNAN, The Reader 04.02.1015

Gutenberg framesThe Candy Project has returned after a long hiatus to present its latest offbeat show, Gutenberg! The Musical! at The Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. The show revolves around two friends, Bud and Doug, who have a passion for musical theatre. As such, they’ve written an important new show about Johann Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press; a show they hope to one day take to Broadway. To make their dreams come true, Bud and Doug will perform a reading for several famous Broadway producers (that’s us, the audience).

“They’ve written a show that they feel really passionate about and they are really excited about it,” said Dan Chevalier, the actor who plays Bud in the show. “They may not be Shakespeares necessarily. Also, the history of what we know about Johann Gutenberg is scant so they fill in the blanks with their own creative imagination. The resulting show is two guys who feel very passionate about a show that is a little bit ridiculous.”

Chevalier and his costar Steve Krambeck play the two musical hopefuls as they attempt to portray every single character in Gutenberg! The Musical! To accomplish this, a table is laid out covered with different colored hats bearing the names of each character in the show. Bud and Doug whirl around each other changing hats, changing voices, changing pitches, all the while selling us on just how good the show is. Chevalier said the sheer amount of character changes, along with the surprisingly technical hat choreography, were a truly unique challenge.

“One thing that sets this show apart from anything else that I’ve done is that there are two actors in it,” he said, “But there are some songs that have a quartet written into it. So we have to sing all the characters…we have a hat in each hand, switching over from one hate to the other, singing both parts as we go. The fast-paced switching is something, as an actor, that is unlike any other show I’ve experienced before.”

And the music is just as varied as the characters.

“The music also goes in many different directions. The characters are wildly different and so are the songs.  There’s a little bit of Elvis, a little bit of soft folk music. We have our big ‘11 o’clock numbers’ where we belt for the heavens. Music-wise, there’s something for everyone. Each character has their own flavor of music.”

The Pizza Shoppe in Benson might be the last place anyone would expect to find a hit musical in Omaha. But over the last 7 years, The Candy Project has made its mark producing little-known, small-scale, quirky musicals that might not fit in any other theatre around town. It’s a mission, Chevalier says, makes The Candy Project one of the most rewarding organizations to be a part of.

“The Candy Project tries to find those show that are smaller, shows that you wouldn’t necessarily see in any other theatre in Omaha. We can’t compete with the bigger theatre that have these huge, amazing sets, beautiful spaces, and a 10 person orchestra. Small but mighty, that’s a good way to describe the types of shows The Candy Project selects.”

The Candy Project’s latest production of Gutenberg! The Musical! will run from April 10th-19th at The Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. For more information on the show, visit www.thecandyproject.wordpress.com, email info@thecandyproject.com, or call 402-957-2827.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.

Opposites Attract in ‘Rooms’ Musical | Omaha World-Herald

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another year, another musical few have heard of about to open tonight. This time the title is “Rooms: A Rock Romance.”

But that’s the mission of The Candy Project, an Omaha theater company that set its sights on staging new musicals with young adult themes that nobody else in town is doing.
Candy Project has had sweet success, first with “I Love You Because …” and then, last summer, “[title of show],” which is up for best musical at Sunday’s annual Theatre Arts Guild awards.
“‘Rooms’ is new, edgy, smart and it rocks,” said Cathy Hirsch, a Candy Project co-founder and producer of the show.

Her cast, just two young actors, enthusiastically agrees.

“I’m so in love with the music,” said Omahan David Rubio, who plays Ian, an introverted Scottish guitar player. “Candy Project is great about getting the quality stuff onstage.”

Jaimie Pruden, of Tucson, Ariz., took the role of Monica two weeks into rehearsals, when an actress left the project. While simultaneously rehearsing and appearing in “Church Basement Ladies” with the Nebraska Repertory Theatre in Lincoln, Pruden learned the massive role in just a few days while commuting daily from Lincoln.

“I had heard the music and thought it was awesome,” Pruden said. “What drew me to the character is just the raw emotion and the amount of honesty. It’s a very vulnerable position for an actor to be in, just two people onstage. But it’s really worth the work.”

While Ian’s an introvert who’s all about the music, vocalist Monica is driven by ambition and the dream of fame. Opposites attract, but the pair find their romance rocky because of their differences as they climb from obscurity in Glasgow to London and then New York City.

“We’re playing characters our own age, but they’re forced to mature so fast,” Rubio said. “It’s very challenging, unlike any role I’ve had.”

Pruden said the interplay is often funny, but it’s also a beautiful love story.

With Pruden arriving late to the rehearsal process, it was a help that she and Rubio live in the same off-campus house in Lincoln while working on voice degrees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Both 20 and heading into their junior year, they are friends who have sung together before.

“It’s great that we connect so well,” Rubio said. “That musical connection that is the basis of the show happens onstage with us. It’s a joy to do it every night.”

Bob Fischbach

Candy Project Gets Set to Rock ROOMS! | Theatrical Rights Worldwide

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Interview with Producer Cathy Hirsch

by Fred Stuart for Theatrical Rights Worldwide

Omaha, Nebraska’s Candy Project, established in the winter of 2008, is a theatre company comprised of twenty-somethings bringing cutting-edge musical theatre to the prairie. Their next project is ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE, (music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, book by Goodman & Miriam Gordon.)

The company has previously produced I LOVE YOU BECAUSE and [title of show]. The Candy Project has quickly become known for very high quality work in Omaha, which is home to a very hot local theatre scene. Their 2010 production of [title of show], the brilliant 2008 Broadway show, was called “can’t miss theatre” by the Omaha World Herald. 2009′s I LOVE YOU BECAUSE was similarly lauded by the World Herald: “(I LOVE YOU BECAUSE is)…the debut show of The Candy Project, a new troupe of 20-somethings who plan to showcase small musicals with young themes. If their next offering is as refreshing, sassy and well-sung as this one, The Candy Project is in business. I Love You Because … ranks with the best of a busy theatrical summer…” Clearly, the relatively new troupe is talented and forward-thinking.

I recently spoke with Candy producer Cathy Hirsch about their upcoming production of ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE.

FS: Hi Cathy. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me today. I know you are busy with getting pre-production going for ROOMS. So, I’m very interested in your choice of ROOMS for Candy’s 2011 show. I saw the show in NYC at New World Stages and I fell in love with it. What drew you to the show?

CH: A couple of years ago I played a role locally in THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK THE MUSICAL that Leslie Kritzer had originated Off-Broadway. I loved her interpretation and since then have kept an eye on her work. ROOMS was attractive because of its small cast and rocking score. Our inaugural show was I LOVE YOU BECAUSE, also from the TRW catalogue, and we had such a great response to it I was happy to see ROOMS was also being licensed by the company. When I mentioned that it was on my “short list” of shows to pick from this year to one of the co-founders of The Candy Project, she really encouraged going with ROOMS having seen and loved the show Off-Broadway.

FS: How does ROOMS fit in with your mission at the Candy Project?

CH: Omaha is a very talented city, blessed with a wealth of live theatre. However, established houses with big budgets and big audiences also have to cater their seasons to their membership base. Newer musicals then also often need to be widely recognized in order to be considered for their seasons. Basically, there were all of these great shows out there that no one would touch because they were too edgy or the names weren’t recognized. The original founders of The Candy Project wanted to bring those shows to Omaha, appealing to a younger generation who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise considered themselves fans of musical theatre.  ROOMS is new, edgy, smart and it rocks. It definitely fits our mission of captivating a young adult audience while bringing new musical theatre to Omaha.

FS: I think your comments are true for theatre communities across the country, Cathy. Kudos for doing these great new shows. So, does presenting rock ‘n roll in a theatre setting present any special challenges? Amplification issues?

CH: Certainly it does. We do not have our own space so we create theatre in non-traditional venues. While this presents additional challenges, we are also in the position to stage pieces in unique and creative ways. ROOMS is being held in an art gallery which is essentially one big, nearly empty room.

FS: Sounds very cool!

CH: Yeah, it works for this show in particular as it evokes a sort of “garage band” feel that mimics the root of early punk rock bands. The current plan (today… tomorrow things could change) is to present ROOMS in a unique format. Not quite theatre-in-the-round but where the “stage” area is down the middle of the building with the audience set up on either side of it. We’re still grappling with how to make this work with the placement of the band for the best sound to all audience members.

FS: Do you specifically seek out shows with small casts?

CH: Our first show had a cast of 6, followed by a cast of 4, and now we’re down to 2… at this rate we’ll have no cast at all for our next show! Yes, with our intimate spaces and small budget we pick shows with small, incredibly talented casts.

FS: What’s on the horizon for the Candy Project?

CH: We were invited to perform a one night only performance of Kooman + Dimond’s fantastic song cyle “Homemade Fusion” at the Omaha Playhouse as part of their 21 & Over series next May. At about that time we’ll be announcing our musical for next summer but the show hasn’t been decided on just yet. There are some fantastic shows on the list of possibilities! I’m very excited to see what we end up choosing next summer.

FS: Cathy, thanks a million for talking with me about ROOMS today. TRW is thrilled that the Candy Project is bringing ROOMS to life in Omaha!

CH: You are welcome!

ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE begins in late 1970′s Glasgow where Monica, an ambitious singer/songwriter meets Ian, a reclusive rocker. The two quickly become entangled creatively and romantically. Their music takes them first to London and ultimately to New York City, where they discover the vibrant new music scene and create an intimate partnership, their love deepening while their personalities drive them apart. A rock band accompanies these two characters as they search for the balance between ambition and happiness.

The Candy Project production will be held at the Bancroft Street Market, August 4-20th. Jaimie Pruden and David Rubio will portray Monica and Ian respectively. The production is directed by Daena Schweiger with music direction by Zachary Peterson. The Production Stage Manager is Lisa McNeil.

Review: Big talent in musical’s small cast | Omaha World-Herald

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

By Bob Fischbach

The title stinks.

But everything else about the Candy Project’s production of the musical “[title of show]” is can’t-miss theater, especially for hard-core fans of musicals.

This micro-budget, small-cast show has more references to both megahit and obscure Broadway musicals and the people who create them than any other show I’ve ever seen.

It helps if you’re in the know about all things musical, but “[title of show]” was cleverly constructed to work for just about anybody who likes good singing and comedy.

The young, appealing cast of four blends beautifully in some tight vocal harmonies.

The script, though profane at times, is very funny.

And though all of the cast — including keyboardist Zachary Peterson, who delivers a few one-liners — is great, Bill Grennan had audience members repeatedly doubled over, howling all night at a Thursday preview with his expressive face, physical schtick and line readings that created laughs out of thin air. He’s the standout in a really talented cast.

Grennan’s mischievous, sardonic sensibilities are simply perfect for the role of Hunter, who reluctantly signs on when his partner, Jeff (David Ebke), suggests they enter a New York festival for new musicals, even though the entry deadline is just three weeks away.

The show’s nondescript title comes from the festival’s entry form. Since Jeff and Hunter can’t think of a title, they simply write in what the blank asks for: [title of show].

And though Hunter begins the project reluctantly, in the end he’s the one who gets the most carried away with dreams of fame, fortune and a Tony Award.

The two decide they will write a musical about writing a musical, and the script for their show becomes the script for what we are watching.

They audition and hire a couple of women to co-star and help develop the show.

Heidi (Amanda Miller) is a comedienne who has been in the chorus of two Broadway shows, while Susan (Cathy Hirsch) is a compulsive foodie, none too bright, who has shelved dreams of stardom for a daytime office job.

The show becomes cleverly self-referential. Example: Hunter might suddenly say, “I really feel like we need to get out of this scene, ’cause it seems too long,” and the lights instantly go to black.

The laughs are consistent, the songs are both witty and insightful, and the performances admirable. No costumes beyond street clothes, no set beyond four chairs, and just that fine keyboardist in the band.

But it’s all you need for a fun, entertaining evening of musical theater. “[title of show]” runs about 95 minutes with no intermission.

Word to the wise: It’s a small theater and a limited run, so make your reservations early.

Candy Project returns with inspirational [title of show] | The Weekly Reader

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

by Warren Francke

The musical called [title of show] opens with “Untitled Musical Number” and lets its creators sing, “Two Nobodies in New York,” while one of their girlfriends warbles, “I Am Playing Me.”

That leaves room for such songs as “An Original Musical” and “The Tony Award Song.”

That’s more than a hint of what the Candy Project brings to the Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson this weekend. It’s known as “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.”

And they invite two actress friends along for the fun, so two of the original Candy pals, Cathy Hirsch and Amanda Miller, share the small stage with four chairs and two men: Bill Grennan and David Ebke, who play Jeff Bowen, creator of the music and lyrics, and Hunter Bell, who wrote the book. Then there’s Zach Peterson on keyboard, who inspires some dialogue about why the accompanist never gets to talk. Which he does, by the way.

Bowen and Bell played themselves, winning Obies when it ran off-Broadway before a triple-digit run on Broadway. They conceived the show when struggling to complete an entry in three weeks for the New York Musical Theater Festival. That’s when they realized their conversations about what to write were more interesting than any of their ideas for a story.

“From the onset of the Candy Project,” Hirsch recalled, “this was what we wanted to produce. As we were banding together (Hirsch, Miller, Dan Chevalier and Andy King) in late 2008, the show was closing its run. I had the CD already spinning on repeat in my car and I distinctively remember talking to Dan and how he said that he rarely loved a show so instantly as this.”

Unfortunately, Andy moved away and Dan took a new job that kept him out of the cast. “But we struck some serious gold” with Grennan and Ebke, “and Randall Stevens jumped at directing.” Miller is music director, Jamie Fields stage manager.

Cathy explained that her group “couldn’t help but relate to the show, so much that we purchased the rights to some of the songs to perform at our cabarets before they were widely available.” They’d hear rumors of the overall rights becoming available soon, and after the licensing announcement, she “began emailing them” monthly to check on its status.

After their first big show, I Love You Because, closed, word came on the release of rights, and “I applied that day and they were granted a week or so later.”

Hirsch and friends have never seen the show, but eagerly followed the cast’s Youtube.com series of webisodes that pushed the path to Broadway. “Each time they would release a new one,” Cathy reported, “we would email it to each other and nerd out over it.”

Since then “a lot of little things we incorporated in both our marketing and our performances were lovingly inspired by [title of show],” even down to the font in their logo.

Now they’ve produced some Youtube and Facebook webisodes and received encouraging feedback from the creators.

“It’s pretty amazing to be in rehearsal to play Susan Blackwell and Susan Blackwell sends you a message on Facebook.”

If all this isn’t serendipitous enough, the show fits perfectly on the tiny Pizza Shoppe stage.

But a large part of its attraction to the friends who formed the Candy Project is that it features four friends “getting together and talking in the way friends talk in a language they share,” Hirsch noted. And that includes “finding ways to inspire each other.”

[title of show] runs Aug. 6-21, at the Pizza Shoppe Collective, 6065 Maple St., Fri.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $12 for students and TAG members. For reservations call 597.2827 or email thecandyproject@yahoo.com.