A lot of inventive minds went into the creation of Found, the likable, if cluttered, musical having its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company. First, there is Davy Rothbart, the co-founder of Found Magazine, a Chicago publication which collects notes, letters and lists that people find lying in the street, and mines them for their poignant street poetry. The show tells the story of a slightly fictionalized Rothbart and his magazine’s rise to cult status. It employs actual found materials, verbatim, as both lyrics to the majority of the songs, and as mini-monologues for the cast who take turns reciting as the words are projected onto the stage. The production owes its biggest debt to the weird, creative, happy, sorrowful and apparently absent-minded minds of all these anonymous writers, but providing form, function and subplot to the proceedings are the book writers, Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree. Bell was the co-creator of the 2004 hit [title of show] and here he takes just a small metaphysical leap, going from a musical about the creation of that very musical, to a musical about a magazine that is created from actual pages of that magazine. Indeed, the emotional heart of Found echoes [title of show], with its two guys and two girls trying-to-make-a-go-of-it romanticism.
Overtree also directs, and succeeds in juggling a true story, a love story and a 10 person ensemble that is constantly in motion, He also makes generally good use of the three flavors of comedy derived from the source material: 1) Usually, the notes are funny, or touching, on their own, and simply letting the audience hear them is entertainment enough. There is no denying the fact that peeking into a lost bit of a stranger’s life pulls an emotional trigger. 2) Parody. Several times over the course of the show, a sketch comedy will suddenly break out, based on one of the notes. These include an homage to cats, staged as an homage to the musical Cats. 3) Commentary. As the audience follows Davy (Nick Blaemire) along on his curvy career path and through the complexities of a romantic triangle, the notes sometimes are offered as a reflection of what we are seeing. This is the trickiest usage of the material and, too often, it falls flat. When one of the women in Davy’s life finally has had enough of him, we do not need to see a note that reads, “She finally had enough.”
In a show about a publishing platform that is essentially the anti-Facebook, it was hard to get the founder of Facebook out of my head while watching Davy. Dressed in Mark Zuckerberg’s trademark hoodie, Blaemire bears a passing resemblance to him, and his character’s earnest demeanor, girl troubles, and secret plans to sell out to West Coast honchos, all made this feel as if I had stumbled into The Social Network, The Musical. Fortunately, there were a few numbers where Blaemire was able to channel his inner Lin-Manuel Miranda, providing sudden flashes of an In the Heights cohesiveness between him and the ensemble.
Barrett Wilbert Weed plays Denise, one of Davy’s co-conspirators and his would-be girlfriend. Given a couple charming ballads, Weed shows off a lovely, seemingly effortless singing voice. Daniel Everidge, as Davy’s loyal friend Mikey, also has great pipes, though he doesn’t get to go full throttle until late into the show. Broadway vet Betsy Morgan is full of gusto as Kate, the other woman in Davy’s world. And familiar faces in the chorus include Danny Pudi, from NBC’s Community, and the fine Andrew Call, who unveils a different hilarious character with every note he reads.
David Korins’ set is a parabolic, overly cavernous mess with papier mache walls none too subtly constructed from thousands of discarded letters. A slightly raked stage pulls focus to an upstage platform that is hardly ever used. It’s a space that would have provided a nicer home for the lively six-member orchestra than the odd, sunken cubby holes where they were confined. And, while none of the cast are renown dancers, Monica Bill Barnes’ choreography was still a disappointing mix of hand jiving and booty shaking. Moving words, not moving feet, give this show its bounce.
Found – Book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree, Original Music and Lyrics by Eli Bolin, Directed by Lee Overtree.
WITH: Christina Anthony, Nick Blaemire (Davy), Andrew Call, Daniel Everidge (Mikey), Orville Mendoza, Betsy Morgan (Kate), Molly Pope, Danny Pudi, Sandy Rustin and Barrett Wilbert Weed (Denise).
Music direction by Matt Castle; Scenic design by David Korins; Costume design by Theresa Squire; Lighting by Justin Townsend; Sound by Ken Travis; Projection Design by Darrel Maloney; Stage Manager, Mark Dobrow; at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, 866.811.411, Through November 9th, http://atlantictheater.org/, Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.