Village Theatre’s “The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes” Sings & Dances It’s Way Through the Life of Mr. Average in True Musical Fashion
A Strange Musical About A Man Whose Life Has Become a Musical
Village Theatre’s first offering of this season The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is a product of their New Musicals program and pushes the boundaries of a musical in ways that are often very entertaining. The show is the story of Howard Barnes a typical New York City Gen X guy who wakes up one day to find himself living in a musical even though he has never even seen one.
Here’s how Village Theatre describes the show:
“Howard Barnes is a perfectly average American guy: he likes baseball, grilling, and his daily routine. That is, until the day he wakes up to discover his life has become a musical. Desperate to return things to normal, Howard embarks on a fantastical quest through the realm of musical theatre. A Village Original from The 2013 Festival of New Musicals, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is equal parts satire, romantic comedy, and love letter to the American musical.”
Howard Barnes does provide that hero’s journey, but it also spends a great deal of time and energy referencing many American musicals in a way that will fascinate musical fans. Although some of those references might not be noticed, audiences can’t miss the wacky nature of the production as Howard finds his every movement scored to music that only he can hear.
Eventually, his new girlfriend Maggie, brilliantly played with great comic verve as well as extraordinary song and dance by Taryn Darr, can also hear the music, but even Maggie initially thinks Howard has lost it.
Darr’s talent is obvious in one of her first spoken lines when she voices a nonstop nervous recitation of why she has come to see Howard at his apartment. The soliloquy continues on with Darr seeming to not take a breath for such a long period that the audience stopped the show with applause when she finally finished.
The other truly bright spot in the cast is Seattle veteran Jeff Steitzer in a few early cameo roles followed by a brilliant portrayal of the Wizard of Oz like character Stephen Lloyd Von Schwartzenbaum. Steitzer deliciously hams up the role in a larger than life characterization that truly entertains and enlivens the show.
The bulk of the show is filled with unique singing and dancing numbers while the format of musicals is constantly being explained to Howard by Maggie, who turns out to be an aspiring musical actress. As a new musical, TNLOHB takes several steps out of the box from traditional musicals. Key among them (and not told to the audience beforehand) is the fact that the show runs 1:45 with no intermission and has a long surprise dialogue scene that comes in what many in the audience believed was the intermission.
Also, the characters first talk about and then break the fourth wall, thereby doing their best to draw the audience more fully into the show. At times, this device works, making this Howard Barnes into more than a traditional musical. In some ways, it’s an experience that results in a bit of musical theater education as well as some solid entertainment.
All in all, TNLOHB provides a unique and wacky look into the world of musicals while entertaining with some extraordinary singing, dancing, acting and stagecraft. It continues to run at Village Theatre in Issaquah through October 21 before moving to the Everett Performing Arts Center from October 26 - November 18.
L. Steven Sieden is a writer, event producer and global futurist. His books include "Buckminster Fuller’s Universe" and "A Fuller View, Buckminster Fuller’s Vision of Hope and Abundance For All". He has been reviewing Seattle area theatre and live entertainment since 2012.