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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Jay Perry, left, and Kirt Bateman, with a few of the hats they wear in "Gutenberg! The Musical!"

For the holidays — including Thanksgiving and almost to New Year's Eve — Plan-B Theatre Company is staging an all-new off Broadway musical comedy for local audiences.

According to artistic director Jerry Rapier, Plan-B is the first theater company worldwide that has been licensed to produce "Gutenberg! The Musical!"

Originally produced by the show's collaborators Scott Brown and Anthony King in London's West End, and off Broadway (where Rapier first saw it in February), only two other companies are lined up to produce the show this year — one in Australia and the other in Finland.

"The last time we were the first regional company to produce a major off Broadway show was 'The Laramie Project' in 2001," Rapier said.

As if producing something unknown to local audiences isn't risky enough, Rapier has also committed to playing the show for seven weeks — the longest Plan-B has ever run a single production in the Rose Wagner Center.

He's promoting it as "a side-splitting alternative just in time for the holidays," adding that "The Santaland Diaries," which had been produced by another company during the Christmas season for several years, is not being done this year.

Rapier is also quick to explain that "Gutenberg!" isn't nearly as edgy as "Santaland," and while it may not be entirely appropriate for children under 12, it is just meant "to be a good time during the holidays."

He's also hoping that since Plan-B's last three shows have all dealt with death and issues surrounding death and loss, "it's time to give our audiences tears of a different sort.

"In a very real sense, it's a complete departure" from Plan-B's most recent fare. "It's not really political, and it's not issue-oriented."

"Gutenberg! The Musical!" takes a "Waiting for Guffman" approach to the world of theater, as two frequent Plan-B Theatre players — Kirt Bateman and Jay Perry — portray novice collaborators Doug Simon and Bud Davenport, who have written a really bad musical based (loosely) on the life and times (sort of) of printing-press inventor Johann Gutenberg.

Within the framework of the show, they're presenting a backers' audition for their new project, hoping to drum up financial support to take it to Broadway. But they've neglected to invite any potential producers. And the two goofy writers play all the roles themselves, donning hats with various characters' names attached. "This gets really absurd when they do a crowd scene," said Rapier.

Bud and Doug also play fast and loose with historical facts. "They take the first act to have Gutenberg build his printing press, then they throw in a completely fictitious love interest — a woman named Helvetica — who destroys the press with a pencil."

"I couldn't believe how much I loved the show when I saw it in February. The audience was going nuts over it," Rapier said, adding that during intermission in New York he quickly called his contacts at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center to block out some time Plan-B could produce the show this season.

Rapier said that rehearsing this wacky comedy has been interesting for both Kirt Bateman, who was involved in multiple dramatic roles in "Exposed," which just closed, and for Jay Perry, who had played a dramatic role in "Facing East" earlier this year, and who was involved in Plan-B's Halloween radio broadcast of two ghost stories.

"I generally look for more cynical, acerbic humor," said Rapier, "but 'Gutenberg!' is not what you'd expect. It's very clean-cut in a way because Bud and Doug are such sincere guys.

"There's only one expletive in the whole show — blurted out by Doug when he gets caught up in the excitement of the moment, then Bud has to reel him in. It's a loving sendup of musical theater and how a musical is structured."

He added that "Gutenberg!" is a full-fledged musical with 14 songs, "but it's a very simple one and about as silly and wacky as people could possibly imagine."

Musical staging is by Colleen Lewis with musical direction by Jeffrey Price.

If you go . . .

What: "Gutenberg! The Musical!" Plan-B Theatre Company

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway

When: Friday through Dec. 30

How much: $10-$18

Phone: 355-2787

Web: www.arttix.org

Also: www.planbtheatre.org

E-mail: [email protected]