Review: Run, don’t walk, to see Village Theatre’s brilliant ‘Noteworthy Life’

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Howard (Joshua Carter) bumps into Maggie (Taryn Darr) at a Rangers game. (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes might be an ill-advised title for a musical. I found myself having trouble retrieving the name exactly, as I stopped strangers in the streets, grabbed them by the lapels, and insisted that they run out immediately and get tickets.

Basically, I loved everything about this musical but the name. Want to be the first one on the block to see The Producers? Sorry, you’re too late. But it’s not too late for… what was it again? Oh yeah, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes.

It’s that good.

Howard is introduced to the “musical” world.
(Photo by Tracy Martin)

You can tell your friends you saw it when. Described as equal parts satire, romantic comedy, and love letter to the American musical, Howard Barnes has the potential to become a household name and it’s debuting at the Village Theater in Everett right now.

Run, don’t walk. It closes Nov. 18.

I was in a foul mood when I walked into the Everett Performing Arts Center Saturday night. The fancy-schmancy restaurant where we had attempted to dine had screwed up dinner, (thank God I don’t have to write about that), it was pouring buckets of rain, and we were running late. But from the opening curtain, I could see this was going to be great.

Howard Barnes has an excellent premise, is brilliantly written, is performed magnificently, and has a charming and accessible score. All this combined to make it one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in recent memory.

Hey, it wasn’t just me. Everyone was laughing throughout the entire production.

Joshua Carter, who nailed down the challenging title role, came off as a believable Howard Barnes — an ordinary guy “I’m Cheerios!“ — a man with a penchant for laser light shows; more at home at a hockey game than in a musical. Ask yourself how you would feel if your humdrum, ordinary life was suddenly transformed into a musical? I think he handled it rather well.

Von Schwartzenheim (Jeff Steitzer) in all his glory. (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)

And what about Jeff Steitzer? Who, among his many dramatic accomplishments, is the actual Voice of God for Microsoft HALO multiplayer games. He landed the plum role of Von Schwartzenheim. Who doesn’t like a little lighthearted teasing about the glorious egos of successful musical geniuses like, say, for instance, well, Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Jasmine Jean Sim was absolutely terrific in the role of antagonist/ex-girlfriend.

But Taryn Darr was a flawless, perfectly cast showstopper (both figuratively and literally) in the role of Maggie — the new girl in the office that Howard is crushing on.

Maggie (Taryn Darr) speaks to Howard (Joshua Carter) in his apartment. (Photo courtesy Village Theatre)

Maggie’s soliloquy as she barges into Howard’s studio apartment was nothing short of extraordinary, and it brought the house down.

While we’re committing things to memory, you might as well add Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman. It might seem a tad hyperbolic to suggest that Dimond and Kooman will someday roll off the tongue like Learner and Lowe, and Rogers and Hammerstein, but I think it’s entirely possible.

They’re young — in their 30s — just getting rolling, and if Howard Barnes is any indication, we are in for some great musicals. Their most recent project, Romantics Anonymous, is already getting rave reviews. Although I’d recommend Howard Barnes for anyone, there are occasional sexual references that might make some parents briefly uncomfortable. Someone suggested that a PG-13 rating is probably about right. Personally, I didn’t find it to be objectionable, but now that my kids are grown, my filter is off.

Interestingly, this play is performed in a single act, and goes places you would never predict. When it poked a little fun at experimental theatre, I could not stop laughing. I was reminded of Something Rotten, performed last year at The 5th Avenue, in that Howard Barnes is thick with dozens of homages to great musical theater. Pro-tip: The program has a list of them on page 15 — it’s fun to compare notes afterward to see how many you spotted.

Toward the end, the gags come so fast, you have to stay on your toes to catch them all.

As always, Village Theatre’s costuming, set, orchestra and tech were stellar. I admire the casting of a cross section of American actors. This is not a cast of lily-white glam-bots —  a temptation that some theatre companies succumb to, even today.

Make the trip up to Everett and enjoy this hilarious musical comedy. You won’t be sorry!

Tickets and more information at villagetheatre.org/everett/the-noteworthy-life-of-howard-barnes.php

— By James Spangler

 

 

 

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