[node:15325421 link=Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell;]’s endearing metamusical, in which two guys named Jeff and Hunter pen a musical about penning a musical, hums with quirky, off-kilter appeal, even if you won’t find yourself humming Bowen’s slight tunes. From the opening number (titled “Untitled Opening Number”), [title of show] drops offbeat jokes and obscure musical-theater references like bread crumbs on the trail to Broadway. But its portrayal of underemployment, stalled careers and deferred dreams makes the show relatable even to non-obsessives.
Styled as a collection of blackout sketches, Bell’s self-referential book tracks Hunter (Matthew Crowle) and Jeff (Stephen Schellhardt) as they battle blocks, distractions, fear and friction in their struggle to craft a show. They’re joined by pals Heidi (Christine Sherrill), a big-voiced hoofer who’s trouped through the backgrounds of a pair of Broadway shows, and Susan (McKinley Carter), an arch performer who’s nearly given up the biz for a hated but steady office job.
The show’s first half is a tight, jokey delineation of the creative process, with Bowen’s numbers providing a grown-up Schoolhouse Rock feel. The second half, which Bell and Bowen continued to expand as their play went from showcase to Off Broadway to the Great White Way, spins out a little repetitively, though it gets points for honest depictions of some ugly moments. Northlight’s cast, accompanied by Doug Peck on piano, winningly sells the material with expert timing. Crowle, in particular, imbues Hunter with an engagingly squirrelly energy.