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As expected at the KC Rep, the production is technically excellent in every way, and the elaborate set, with its fancy rolling elements, almost wheels away with the show. Saved! is an entertaining musical mounted with talent and dazzle to spare. But it doesn't come close to showing us the wonder of faith. And it doesn't reach the soul.
Like a space capsule leaving its launch rocket far below, [title of show] dispenses with steam-spewing exposition and gear-grinding transitions — all the machinery, in other words, that gets most musicals off the ground and then moves characters from one number to the next.
Freed from all the usual mechanics of its genre (and even a name), [title of show], the Unicorn Theatre's stellar new production, is propelled by little more than wit, verve, whip-smart lyrics, and music and story. And under the inspired direction of Missy Koonce, it's powered by the abundant heart and energy of its performers — the refined fuel that's the very essence of musical theater.
Any description of [title of show], including an explanation of its unusual moniker, only makes the story sound impossibly contrived and confusing. It's not. It's loop-de-loop self-referential and confettied with pop-culture shout-outs and show-biz in-jokes, but anyone with a handle on the current state of our culture — that is, anyone familiar with The Simpsons or politics — will follow every curve of this show's twisty story with little effort.
Hunter and Jeff are two friends with stalled theatrical careers (cue "Two Nobodies in New York"). Inspired by an upcoming musical festival, they resolve to write an all-new show by the festival's deadline, just three weeks away. Even more ambitious, they want to avoid the usual derivative adaptations of movies, TV shows or books. Instead, they long to create "something orig." That phrase, with its outsized ambition love-seated in casual abbreviation, exemplifies the friends' approach: reaching high with their sense of humor intact.
The original idea that Hunter and Jeff come up with: Two characters named Hunter and Jeff (originally played by the writing-composing team Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen themselves — the roles here are taken on by brilliantly matched Seth Golay and KC Comeaux, respectively), joined by their friends Heidi (Jessalyn Kincaid) and Susan (Natalie Weaver), write the very show in which they are now appearing. Told you: twisty. Don't worry. It'll all be clear when you see it — which you really should.
Koonce and musical director Anthony T. Edwards have taken four of the city's best performers and made an ensemble that's tighter and shinier than the Situation's six-pack. Golay's easygoing charisma works well for Hunter, the affably tortured writer who gets (and gives himself) some of the play's biggest laughs. As the sardonic, punctilious Jeff, Comeaux executes a perfectly controlled slow burn. When it's time to sell out, he convinces the team to hold on to their integrity (cue the anthem "Nine People's Favorite Thing").
A very likable Kincaid shows formidable chops on Heidi's show-off vocals, while Weaver kills as wisecracking Susan, with quirkily precise comic timing. She also performs one of the best songs of the evening, the unexpectedly moving "Die, Vampire, Die!"
Little could feel more ridiculous than furtively wiping away tears during a song whose chorus repeats Die, vampire, die, but Weaver's rendition reduced at least a couple of audience members to just that indignity. The vampires she is vanquishing are self-doubt and despair — demons that strike in the night. Because this show isn't, after all, just about Wonder Woman references or making it to Broadway. It's about how nobodies with audacity and faith in themselves can make dreams happen.