It’s not very often that one gets to see a world premiere of a musical – nonetheless one that is extremely unique, particularly funny, and surprisingly touching all in one. But that’s what audience members are finding at the world premiere of The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at Village Theatre, a show that caters to people who love and hate musical theatre alike.
This seemingly impossible feat is accomplished in a simple but uncommon way: The musical revolves around the mundane existence of Howard Barnes, an average, sports-loving, office-job-working man in his early thirties. One day, Howard wakes up to find that his quotidian routine has mysteriously morphed into a musical, complete with strangers on the street breaking out into song and dance that no one but him can seemingly see. What ensues is a hilarious romp as Howard, who has never seen a musical in his life, tries to find his way out of his new, maddening reality of overly-exaggerated characters and ridiculously catchy numbers.
For spouses who are often dragged along to musicals and who find the theme of breaking into song to communicate emotions absurd, Howard Barnes is a relatable character who openly acknowledges the ludicrous nature of this musical reality.
For the spouse who does the dragging, however, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is equally relatable, as the show is full of both obvious and subtle nods to a wide host of musicals. The ability to reference (and include cameo appearances from) Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q, Les Miserables, Hamilton, Chicago, and Spring Awakening – just to name a few – in a mere 90 minutes makes The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes a conglomeration of inside jokes from contemporary Western musicals. These references are bound to excite and entice any regular musical theatre-goer, who can recognize the show as both a satire of and love letter to the American musical.
While this show bends a lot of rules of musical theatre – it breaks the fourth wall; lacks an intermission; and features a main character who is, for most of the musical, uninterested in participating in either song or dance – it also manages to remain as thrilling, sparkly, and ultimately touching as audience members expect musicals to be. Just as it toes the line between pleasing musical theatre geeks and skeptics, it also exists in a gray area between an unprecedented, self-referential style and a typical journey from miserable to triumphant, love story and all.
A small and talented cast – composed primarily of a flexible and impeccable ensemble – spins the mundane life of Howard Barnes into a spectacle that is, to say the least, noteworthy. When it goes on to be a successful hit around the world, you can say you saw it here first.