In Hunter Bell and Eli Bolin’s musical Found, Davy Rothbart (Jonah Platt) returns to the bar where he first introduced his unique series of found material (love notes, diatribes, lists, quirky jottings etc.). Initially shared with the audience in the bar, the collection eventually becomes a popular self-produced zine. But it’s the last hurrah for the bar which is being torn down the next day to create a parking lot.
Lest anyone think they’ve stumbled into a Windy City update of Follies, this west coast premiere is devoid of showgirls and faded Broadway glamour. Though Bolin’s attractive score does have its share of pastiche numbers.
Bell’s book tells a fictionalized story about Davy’s fascination with his found material along with musicalizing quite a few of the, presumably authentic, notes. The instinct to give the notes a framework is sound, as basing an entire evening on such disparate and unrelated items would probably be unsatisfying. Unfortunately, Bell’s plot is so filled with clichés that it only succeeds in flattening out the production.
Davy loses his job about the time he’s left a furious note on his car from a woman who’s mistaken Davy’s car for that of a cheating boyfriend. He shares it with his childhood friend Mikey D (Mike Millan) and his crush, tough girl bartender Denise (Jordan Kai Burnett). Soon the three are collecting these found treasures and doing regular readings of the bizarre collection. The readings’ popularity leads to the magazine, and, eventually, to a contrived Hollywood sojourn for the trio.
That said, the strengths of the production are many, including Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s exuberant environmental direction, the eclectic song styles, and the fantastically full-voiced cast. Platt is an amiable sad-sack Davy, though the leading man beneath his worn jeans peeks out occasionally. Millan’s irrepressible Mikey D steals every scene he’s in, and Burnett’s Denise manages to find the emotion in her vocal moments that the book scenes don’t allow her. The ensemble is filled with unique performers who would be cast as leads in any other production, and each gets numerous moments to shine, both in solos and group numbers.
The environmental setting places the audience at tables around the playing space. This means that you will be seeing audience members as clearly as the performers. I must confess that having Michael Keaton in constant view was sometimes distracting. It also means that the seating is wooden café chairs which can be hard on those of us with back issues.
Los Angeles Theatre Center, February 21 – March 23, 2020, http://iamatheatre.com