Sunday, November 4, 2018

'Noteworthy Life' is Not Your Typical Musical

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
"The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes" (Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
THEATRE REVIEW
Maggie: “Maybe you’re in a new musical.”

Howard: “Is that good?”

Maggie: “Not if you want anyone to see it.”

Those are lines from Village Theatre’s world premiere show, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes about a guy who finds himself stuck in a musical. That statement is very true for a lot of new shows as it takes some trust going to a new show when you don’t already know some of the music. But in this case, I think it is an exception. Much of the music featured in the new production is toe-tapping and catchy and for that matter, it's one funny show too. That’s not to say that it a perfect production, but certainly an entertaining one on many levels.

The premise of the show is that Howard Barnes is an average Joe kind of guy. There’s nothing really special about him. He’s a single, hockey-loving guy still nursing a broken heart of a previous relationship when suddenly he finds himself in the middle of a musical which sort of plays out like an extended dream sequence. At about 90 minutes in length, it is one of the shortest musicals out there, but it plays with no intermission. I suppose that’s so you don’t lose continuity or something.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Perhaps ironically, this show is at its best at the beginning when things are pretty simple. Howard (Joshua Carter) lives in New York City (the set of his apartment is great) and his odd neighbor brings him some of his mail that got delivered to him by mistake. That’s when Howard starts to hear music. He goes to bed and suddenly he’s magically brought to the city streets where everyone around him sings “Welcome to Today,” a catchy little tune that will stick in your head for a while (a good sign of a new musical). Then Howard is magically brought to his office with some mysterious co-workers singing around him, but nobody else notices them. He has an awkward encounter with one co-worker, Maggie (Taryn Darr) who he clearly has a crush on, before he’s brought to a hockey game. And who should show up to said game? Maggie. The crowd is shouting to the players on the ice when suddenly one of them shouts at Howard to “Shoot the Puck,” a metaphor for “ask the girl out on a date!” The crowd, still seemingly interested in the game, continue to encourage Howard in song to “shoot the puck” while Maggie watches the games oblivious of what is happening around her. This is not only one of the show’s best songs, but it is the best scene in the musical period. This is when the play is its simplest. A musical is happening all around Howard, but he’s the only one who can hear it. Very clever and I wish the rest of the show was like this, but it’s not.

Howard gets transported again back to his apartment and his ex-girlfriend Grace (Jasmine Jean Sim) shows up in his closet wearing a wedding gown. She simultaneously teases him about being commitment phobic while encouraging him to live life to the fullest. She pops up over and over again in the show and it’s hard to figure out if she is the show’s villain or if she’s doing work as a godmother type of character.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Eventually, Howard confesses to Maggie about his dilemma, who surprisingly takes it well. It is here that the show feels like a whole different one going down a rabbit hole or a trip similar to the one Dorothy had to during The Wizard of Oz. Maggie is now an unrealistic character trying to help Howard to get out of “his musical.” In order to do so, they must find the great Von Schwartzenheim (Jeff Steitzer who is ALWAYS great on stage) who has written the best musicals ever known, on how to escape. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Some of the scenes that follow work really well while others fall flat. The show manages to poke fun at other forms of theatre (the “Let It Out” number with the “experimental” artists is especially great) while also including a variety of characters and lines from such well-known musicals. This is actually pretty fun for those who have seen a lot of musicals over the years. Many of the characters in this show pop up as characters they played before including Mallory King as Mary Poppins, Sarah Russell as one of the Dreamgirls and Greg McCormick Allen as the Musicman. Other musicals represented include Annie, Peter Pan, Hairspray, Cats, Chicago, Avenue Q and even Hamilton! The show even breaks through the fourth wall involving the audience a bit.

All in all, this is a fun show that is unlike any you have seen before it, but it also feels unpolished as is. There are a few too many clever ideas here and I appreciated many of the things they bring up like the problem with dance sequences or those boring songs thrown in your favorite musical which feel as if they are only there to extend the length of the show. Some of these references work while other don’t. There are also a few crass lines that take the innocent quality away from the show and some scenes that while are entertaining, don’t really make much sense to the story at all. Of course, everything ends up happy in the end, but this isn’t a show for families.



The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes continues its run at the Everett Performing Arts Center through November 18. Tickets can be purchased online or by call the box office at 425.257.8600.

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