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[title of show]

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Ninety minutes can sometimes crawl. The local premiere of [title of show] runs out of steam barely halfway through, though not the tight cast of the On Again Off Again Theater Project production, in conjunction with Stage 62. The four local actors sing well and are quite charming, but the 2009 Tony Award nominee itself is precious and self-conscious. 

Sort of a postmodern Judy-Garland-and-Mickey-Rooney-meet-A-Chorus-Line, [title] chronicles its development from a last-minute entry into a 2004 musical-theater competition, to its 2006 off-Broadway debut and finally to its opening on Broadway in 2008. Ta-da -- triumph for the plucky underdog.

Both self-referential and self-reverential, [title] sweeps up personal flotsam and jetsam of the four characters/creators, and scatters them among technical-process points and unabashed name-dropping. Some of it is indeed amusingly clever, as in "Monkeys and Playbills," a regurgitation of and salute to Broadway musical flops. Much, alas, is formulaic, following the arc from puppy-like eagerness to initial success, frustration, near-disastrous squabbling and, finally, success. 

The intimate space of the Studio Theater begs the question of why the singers need amplification. But they all sound enjoyable, more so with the songs than with the wink-and-a-nod dialogue punctuated with the odd obscenity.

The women -- Becki Toth as a thespian with a corporate day job and Cara Walkowiak as a chorus-line veteran -- particularly shine. They have their moments together in duets "What Kind of Girl Is She?" and as scene-stealing "Secondary Characters." Toth also gets to lead the show's optimistic "Die, Vampire, Die!," while the winsome Walkowiak wins with the lead on "I Am Playing Me" and her solo, the wistful "A Way Back to Then."

The gentlemen, Dustin Wickett and Christopher Martin, have way more stage time and more forced jokes to wrestle with. Though they have more dialogue and disport more quirks, they don't develop much more of a personality than does the mostly silent accompanist, Matt Brown.

Oddly, the printed program lists no director, though it seems that stage manager Corey Hess is in charge. Lighting design by Mike Swain and sound design by Al Wissner include some modest but effective special effects. With a set of only four chairs and no costume changes (save one gimmicky sandwich board), [title] dispenses with the services of other designers.



[title of show] continues through June 30. On Again Off Again Theater Project at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library Studio Theater, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-429-6262 or www.onagainoffagaintheater.com

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