Pieces of paper? Pieces of paper found and picked up or gathered off the streets, or gleaned from under the windshield wipers of vehicles, or pried off laundry room bulletin boards, or wherever they were posted or tacked or stapled on whatever? This proletarian treasure became a gold mine for Davy Rothbart, creator and founder of Found magazine. These missives, gathered and selected, turn out to be treasure that illuminates the lives of everyday people. They are funny, or sad, or even sort of tragic. Seems like perfect fodder for the new “kick-ass” musical, Found: A New Musical, with book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree and music and original Lyrics by Eli Bolin.
The back-room auditorium of the Los Angeles Theater Center is turned into a hip cabaret with a bar against one wall, a meandering stage projecting out from the bar, with tiny tables and black, cane backed chairs for an audience that sits so close to the action that the players who disappear against the walls of the venue sometimes bump into patrons as they hurry to access the stage. At least I got nudged a couple of times, which to tell the truth, I kind of enjoyed. Patrons can get drinks from the bar just outside the theatre, which enhances the whole scheme of the thing.
The action of the play, at its core, is a fraught dramedy set to music. The plot is essentially the finding and creating of Found magazine. The gimmick is that this beloved bar is in the last night of its existence before being torn down. Davy (Jonah Platt) grabs a mike, gives a spiel to the audience and soon launches into song, joined by his cheerfully gay best friend, Mikey (Mike Millan), bartender Denise (Jordan Kai Burnett), and eventually the entire terrific ensemble of Sheila Carrasco, Parvesh Cheena, Desi Dennis-Dylan, Tom DeTrinis, Zehra Fazal, Ryan Garcia, and Karla Mosley. The opening number is a transition into the story of the creation of Found magazine, beginning with a slip of paper that had been tucked under Davy’s windshield wipers.
Throughout the show, more and more of these odd missives gone-astray are read, or more usually, sung by the cast with the text projected on the walls of the theatre. Davy soon finds that he has lost his job. For Denise its the last night serving drinks. Mikey is a genial free floater. Davy sparks with Denise, but she is a hard case having been burned by love before. Shakespeare, as usual says it best: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Of course the trio comes up with the idea of gathering the stray bits of paper and publishing them in a magazine. They become successful in their home territory, Chicago, and eventually wind up in LA where…ah, no. Enough plot.
Under the spirited direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel, with excellent music supervision, direction, arrangements and orchestrations by Frank Galgano and Matt Castle, and the amazing choreography by Kathryn Burns, this show is exhilarating. And I cannot express enough how great this cast is. They are totally engaged in the joy of performance. The music is hip and terrific, sung with unflagging power. And the drama comes straight from the heart with truth and power.
Credit where credit is due, let me reiterate that Found: A New Musical is based on the Found books and magazines by Davy Rothbart, with additional material created in collaboration with Story Pirates. It is presented by IAMA Theatre Company by special arrangement with Victoria Lang, Benjamin Salka and Eva Price. It runs through March 23 at The Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 South Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.