There is no doubt that the invention of the printing press was a significant event in mankind’s history. Previously manuscripts had been, as the very name implies, copied by hand and therefore very expensive. Knowledge, and the power that accompanied it, was in the hands of that small, elite percentage of the population that had the good fortune of being both wealthy and literate.
But all that began to change when Johann Gutenberg built his first press, that began to change. His invention allowed the masses previously unprecedented access to knowledge. His printing of the Bible gave people their first opportunity to read the book themselves, rather than accepting the clergy’s interpretation of it as rote, thereby breaking the stranglehold of the church’s power.
As momentous as this invention undoubtedly was, it’s hardly something that would cause anyone to break out in song and dance. Or is it?
On Saturday night I took what was my first but certainly not my last trip to Greene’s Chenango River Theatre to see Gutenberg! The Musical!, a show whose two protagonists, Bud Davenport (Matthew Hardy) and Doug Simon (Andy Rabensteine) are endeavoring to set what they consider the most important event in history, to music.
Based on a knowledge of the historical event they admit early on is “scant,” the two collaborated on the musical’s book and score, which they believe they are pitching to a Broadway producer in the audience. And pitch it they do. During the show, the two assume the guises of all 30 characters, and belt out some 16 songs and as they tell the (not entirely historically accurate) tale of the well-meaning, if slightly obtuse Gutenberg (Doug).
After realizing that most of the population of his hometown of Schlimmer, Germany, can’t read (which is made very clear to him with the first musical number, aptly called I Can’t Read), Gutenberg decides to transform his wine press into a printing press. Much, I might add, to the chagrin of Helvetica, the grape-stomping assistant who is secretly in love with him and yearns to be his wife.
Poor, uneducated Helvetica (played alternately by Doug and Bud), fears that the object of her desire will forever stay out of reach if Gutenberg succeeds with his invention.
Every good musical needs a villain, which in this case is the uber-evil Monk (Bud). Monk derives entirely too much joy from holding all knowledge and power in Schlimmer and will stop at nothing to make sure the printing press is destroyed.
Though the premise of the play may be a little intentionally flawed, Hardy, Rabensteine and their incredibly talented musical accompanist, Jan DeAngelo, bring it to the stage with an amazing amount of humor, energy and over-the-top enthusiasm. I’m not sure when I have laughed so hard.
Will Gutenberg defeat the evil Monk, take Helvetica as his bride and invent his press? I won’t give it away, but I will tell you that you’ll certainly be rooting for Bud and Doug to get their contract by the end.
Gutenberg! The Musical! will appear at the Chenango River Theatre through Aug. 30. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org. For tickets, call CRT’s 24-hour reservation line at 656-TIXX (8499).