I Saw 'Gutenberg! The Musical' So You Don't Have To (Although You Should)
A few weeks ago, I got the chance to see "Gutenberg! The Musical" at the James Earl Jones Theatre in New York. Tonight, the show officially opens on Broadway, and I have some thoughts. If you're thinking, "Wow! A Broadway show about the inventor of the printing press!" ... you're not wrong, but you're also not (totally) right.
The show stars Broadway veterans Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad (original stars in the 2011 Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon"), and it is very loosely based on the life of Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th century German inventor of movable-type printing. By very loosely, I mean that the premise of the show centers around two theater makers who decide to write a Broadway show based on Gutenberg using whatever they find on Google. Turns out, there isn't much information to go off of, so they decide to make it up and present it to a live audience with the hopes of enticing a producer to book the show for Broadway. The result is one very silly, laugh-out-loud account of one very prominent figure in history.
Throughout the show, the characters Doug (played by Rannells) and Bud (played by Gad) don bright yellow trucker hats with the name of each character they intend to cast in this hypothetical show — they are the only actors on stage throughout the entire musical (a small three-person band is also on stage, offering the show's music and sound effects). During the hour-and-a-half performance, Doug and Bud each frantically cycle through dozens of the hats, expertly switching between voices and characters until the audience is rolling with laughter.
Rannells and Gad take the audience through the proposed life of Gutenberg, which positions him as a wine maker turned printing press inventor intent on educating the people of the fictional town of Schlimer and teaching them to read. Any good origin story would not be complete without a villain, and in this case, it's an evil, Satan-worshipping monk (played by Bud/Gad) who will stop at nothing to destroy the printing press in order to prevent the townspeople from learning to read (so he can ensure their continued ignorance).
Although the show-within-a-show premise has been done and the premise of this show isn't entirely accurate or relevant to the printing industry, Rannells and Gad are so incredibly talented, it makes it a worthwhile night out for anyone looking for some entertainment. Gad, in particular, blew me away during his musical performances and made me truly sorry I missed the Rannells-Gad run in "The Book of Mormon." There was also a brief mention of Stephen King, which made me undeniably giddy.
The show also has some really bright points of comedy and lyrics. At one point, Rannells asks, "What's the difference between a wine press and a printing press? One makes you drink, one makes you think."
He's not wrong.