‘Howard Barnes’ satirizes and celebrates the American musical
For a relatively light entertainment, there’s quite a bit going on in The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes. It’s a musical with a love story at its center as well as an affectionate sendup of the American musical. It’s also a comedy with the familiar story about a schlubby dude trying to get his life in gear while his ex continues to haunt him.
BDT Stage stalwart Wayne Kennedy directed, assembling a great cast of other veterans of the Boulder Dinner Theatre as well as a few newcomers. As Howard, Chas Lederer plays a guy who seems to have magically been transported into a musical where only he can see and hear the numbers. This is irritating for a guy who at one point admits the only real “show” he’s ever seen was a Pink Floyd laser thing at the planetarium. He knows nothing about musicals, making it critical that he find someone who does if he’s ever going to get out of whatever loop he’s in.
The HR person at Howard’s nondescript workplace is similarly disillusioned with her life and previous love interests and, as it turns out, is a big fan of musicals who also takes a shine to Howard. McKayla Marso McDonough nails the character of Maggie as a strong but needy woman who’s ready to believe just about anything if it leads to true love. Or at least that’s what Howard is led to believe, as the truth that comes out later is another thing entirely.
Kennedy puts the BDT Stage turntable to good use, with a highly efficient set by M Curtis Grittner that changes rapidly to accommodate the main cast and seven ensemble players portraying a wide variety of people. The choreography by Matthew D. Peter is tight and a lot of fun, and he’s got a talented lineup to work with as they help realize the theatrical world into which Howard has stumbled.
For those who, unlike Howard, are pretty familiar with the tropes, clichés and trappings of the American musical, there are a lot of laughs to be found along the way. Lederer does a nice job playing Howard – a guy with a strong need for a crash course in musicals who eventually must do his own singing and dancing. Melissa Morris is delightfully nasty as Howard’s ex, Grace, and Kennedy has a ton of fun playing Von Schwartzenheim, the egomaniacal composite of a musical creator.
For all its silliness, Howard Barnes does have a few things to say about loyalty, truth and, yes, love as it barrels its way toward its twist-y conclusion. It may not be a well-known musical, but it’s a perfect vehicle for BDT Stage and this cast, and it makes for a fun night at the theatre. Plus dinner, drinks and dessert along the way!