The last time I went to New York City to take in a slew of Broadway shows, I had prior knowledge of most of them. Be it the music, having listened to the soundtrack on repeat, or the actual show itself, there wasn’t one I didn’t know in some capacity. However, on my most recent trip to NYC, there were quite a few of the shows I didn’t know anything about. Going into a show blind changes the experience, as you engage with the material differently. You’re actively taking in the sights and songs as they were meant to be seen, which creates a new excitement with the musical. Gutenberg! The Musical! falls squarely into this camp.
Billed as a two-man show, Gutenberg! The Musical! stars Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, who previously starred in The Book of Mormon together. These two bring many laughs with this story and music from Scott Brown and Anthony King.
With only a few more weeks at the James Earl Jones Theatre, it’s time to explore the highs and lows of Gutenberg! The Musical! and if it’s the right show for you if you’re headed to New York City soon! Continue for more of my thoughts on Gutenberg!
[Warning: Spoilers from Gutenberg! The Musical! are below!]
A simple premise brings plenty of laughs on stage
Gutenberg! The Musical! is a show brought to you by Bud (Gad) and Doug (Rannells), best friends who have rented out a Broadway stage to sell their idea for the newest musical based on Johannes Gutenberg.
Who exactly is Johannes Gutenberg? Excellent question reader, I had the same question when I arrived at the show. Turns out, Johannes Gutenberg is the inventor of the printing press, which revolutionized the world. A story like that is prime for a musical adaptation, just like Hamilton!
However, unlike Hamilton, there isn’t much known about Gutenberg. Large chunks of his history left open for interpretation. With nothing but a dream and a three-piece band, Bud and Doug are ready to share this genius’ life story with a bit of flair. They fill in the blanks with an epic story unlike anything that has been seen before.
Truly, I’ve never seen a show like this. The stage is bare, with no sets, no crew, and no cast. Instead, all Bud and Doug have is a collection of hats with the different roles plastered across them. Together, these two set out to play every role, sing every song, and find an investor who is just crazy enough to believe in the story of Johannes Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press.
The positives and negatives of Gutenberg! The Musical!
This musical has very similar vibes to The Book of Mormon, in that it doesn’t take itself very seriously. Unlike Hamilton, which is embraces the reality and seriousness of the character and the American Revolution, Gutenberg! The Musical! amplifies the comedy of the show, reminding people of the ridiculousness that is sometimes inherent in musical theater.
Part of the humor and charm of the show is how completely meta the show is. While Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells are playing characters, essentially it’s exaggerated versions of their true selves, or at least the selves they portray to the media.
As well, having a show about selling a show about Johannes Gutenberg adds a layer of commentary, which helps to elevate the show from average to spectacular. It adds a sense of realism, in that you feel a part of the creation of a show that is never meant to be. It brings the viewers into the show, playing the role of possible investors, who are there to see just what magic Bud and Doug are about to bring onto the stage.
This aspect drew me in, in ways I never felt from a show before. It felt interactive, even though I was just sitting in my seat on a floor above the stage.
The humor of Gutenberg! The Musical! was right up my alley as well, with a nice mixture of different types. There were bits that both characters kept revisiting (such as when Bud would make Doug look him in the eyes before repeating something he had just said) but it worked perfectly for the show. There are quite a few lines that my friends and I repeat to each other frequently and break out into a fit of laughs as we do so.
The bit surrounding the hats/roles that Gad and Rannells play was genius in so many respects. Instead of attempting to change costumes quickly, all they had to do was switch on and off one of the baseball caps and change the accent.
It was hysterical when they’d produce a large stack of hats balanced on top of one another and would whip through them all in a single scene. It was a simple way to get through a scene with many characters, while also maximizing the comedy.
I also loved the energy that Gad and Rannells brought to the show. There’s electricity sparking between the two, as they have put their blood, sweat, and tears into Gutenberg! The Musical! You can also tell how fantastically these two get along off the stage, which creates a better show on the stage. There were many points where the two would feed off each other, causing one of them to break character, leading to some of the funniest parts of the show.
One of the draws as well of Gutenberg! is the special guest that appears at every show. Each performance features a star of some sort, who comes on stage and offers Bud and Doug a Broadway contract. For our show, it was Harvey Guillén, who you know from Blue Beetle and What We Do in the Shadows. The surprise is you never know who will be showing up, which adds to the excitement and desire to see this show multiple times.
Those looking for a traditional Broadway experience might find Gutenberg! The Musical! a bit of a disappointment. It’s more of a stand-up comedy show with musical numbers inserted into it. There are no big dance numbers or impressive sets to transport you to another world. It’s you, the band, and these two actors. If someone isn’t aware of this before heading into the show, they might not appreciate it the way they should.
The type of humor might also be a turnoff to some. I couldn’t imagine my mother going into this show and enjoying it. However, I do think there is enough variety for the majority to enjoy it.
Final thoughts on Gutenberg! The Musical!
Overall, Gutenberg! was one of the highlights of my trip to NYC. I had no idea what to expect going into it, and I came out with one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells have created something remarkable that everyone who loves Broadway shows should see as soon as possible.
Gutenberg! The Musical! is currently playing in the James Earl Jones Theater! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you have or are planning on seeing this show!