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January 5, 2022

Big Fun, Small Cast: Electrifying Shows for Stellar Ensembles


The great dramatist Thornton Wilder wrote that the theatre, out of all artistic forms, is the most direct way citizens can experience one another’s humanity. All it takes is a single soaring actor to bring empathy and dimension to a snappy text. Here’s a collection of fast-paced plays and musicals that tell a rich and humorous story with just a handful of performers.

[title of show] by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 2m, 1 any gender)

Jeff and Hunter, two struggling writers, hear about a new musical theatre festival. However, the deadline for submissions is a mere three weeks away. With nothing to lose, the pair decides to try to create something new with the help of their friends Susan, Heidi and Larry on the eighty-eights. They make a pact to write up until the festival’s deadline and dream about the show changing their lives. [title of show] follows Hunter and Jeff and their friends on their journey through the gauntlet of creative self-expression.

21 Chump Street by Lin-Manuel Miranda (US/UK)
(Short Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 1f, 5m)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 21 Chump Street is a 14-minute musical based on a true story as reported in the series This American Life. In this cautionary tale, a high school honors student named Justin falls for a cute transfer girl. Justin goes to great lengths to oblige Naomi’s request for marijuana in the hopes of winning her affection – only to find out that his crush is actually an undercover cop planted in the school to find drug dealers. 21 Chump Street discusses the ramifications of peer pressure, conformity and drug use in our schools with a message that will stay with teenagers long after they leave the theater.

The 39 Steps by Patrick Barlow (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 1f, 3m)

Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel, add a dash of Monty Python and you have The 39 Steps, a fast-paced whodunit for anyone who loves the magic of theatre! This two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning treat is packed with nonstop laughs, over 150 zany characters (played by a ridiculously talented cast of four), an onstage plane crash, handcuffs, missing fingers, and some good old-fashioned romance!

The Bomb-itty of Errors by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum and Erik Weiner (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4m or f)

The Bomb-itty of Errors is an award-winning “add-rap-tation” – a hilarious hip-hop theatre retelling of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. The 90-minute show is part play and part rap concert, refreshingly current while retaining the integrity of the original. With completely flexible casting requirements, this show is perfect for four talented performers of any age and gender, and can be expanded to include a larger cast.

Brave Smiles…Another Lesbian Tragedy by Lisa Kron, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Maureen Angelos (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dark Comedy / 5f)

Master satirists The Five Lesbian Brothers turn their merciless eyes on the history of lesbians in theater, film, and literature. From their dismal yet erotically charged beginnings at the orphanage under the grip of a sadistic headmistress, our five heroines cross continents and a century to face their absurdly tragic ends. Along the way, they experience alcoholism, suicide, loneliness, pill popping, blacklisting, and a malignant brain tumor. A rollicking, hilarious and smart multicharacter classic.

Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties by Jen Silverman (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dark Comedy / 5f)

Betty is rich; Betty is lonely; Betty’s busy working on her truck; Betty wants to talk about love, but Betty needs to hit something. And Betty keeps using a small hand mirror to stare into parts of herself she’s never examined. Five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah.”

Das Barbecü by Jim Luigs and Scott Warrender (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 2m)

A witty Texas fable with five actors playing more than 30 outrageous characters at breakneck speed. Songs run the gamut from Broadway to Texas swing, from jazz to twangy country and western. Mismatched lovers who meet on the day of their shotgun double wedding, three generations of feuding families, a magic ring of power, wild west lariat tricks, a synchronized swimming revue, a song and dance tribute to the joys of guacamole, and the sweetest two step ever to slide across a stage add up to wild comedy.

Elsie and Norm’s ‘Macbeth’ by John Christopher-Wood (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 1f, 1m)

Elsie and Norm have decided to have a bit of a bash at culture by staging a production of Macbeth in their living room. After a spot of judicious rewriting by Norm to make it snappier and more punchy, and undaunted by the large cast, Elsie and Norm s
et out to act “one of the greatest pieces of literature what has ever been wrote in the English language,” playing all the characters between them. The hilarious results set Shakespeare spinning in his grave!

The Extraordinary Revelations of Orca the Goldfish by David Tristram (UK)
(Short Play, Comedy / 1f, 1m)

For Henry Smith, life was rarely dull. For Alice Smith, life was rarely anything else. Enter Michel – French waiter – tall, dark, and available. Exactly what happened next, no one’s quite sure… A virtuoso piece for two talented and versatile actors – one female and one male – requiring minimal props and scenery, this short comedy is ideal for festivals.

Gnit by Will Eno (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 3f, 3m)

Watch closely as Peter Gnit, a funny-enough but so-so specimen of humanity, makes a lifetime of bad decisions, on the search for his True Self, which is disintegrating while he searches. A rollicking and very cautionary tale about, among other things, how the opposite of love is laziness. Gnit is a faithful, unfaithful, and willfully American reading of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, a 19th-century Norwegian play which is famous for all the wrong reasons, written by Will Eno, who has never been to Norway.

Greater Tuna by Jaston Williams, Ed Howard and Joe Sears (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2m or f)

The long-running off-Broadway hit features two actors creating the entire population of Tuna, Texas in a tour de farce of quick-change artistry, changing costumes and characterizations faster than a jack rabbit runs from a coyote. Two actors, 20 characters, and a barrel of laughs, y’all. If you want more, the Tuna series continues with A Tuna Christmas, Deep in the Heart of Tuna, Red White and Tuna and Tuna Does Vegas.

Gutenberg! The Musical! by Scott Brown and Anthony King (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2m)

In this two-man musical spoof, a pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for their new, ill-advised project – a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann Gutenberg. With an unending supply of enthusiasm, Bud and Doug sing all the songs and play all the parts in their crass historical epic, with the hope that one of the producers in attendance will give them that elusive Broadway contract.

The Iliad, The Odyssey, and All of Greek Mythology in 99 Minutes or Less by Jay Hopkins and John Hunter (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 3m)

On a simple stage, with the clock ticking in front of everyone’s eyes, the cast speeds through all of Greek mythology. Its funny, updated and made easy to understand. Love stories are a dating show and the Greek tragedies are sports highlights! And don’t forget the two greatest stories ever told, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Kidnap Helen of Troy and you’ve got a 10 year slap-fight of epic proportions with pouty Achilles, war-hungry Agamemnon, and clever Odysseus, destined to wander the seas for ten more years fighting giants, seductresses and the Gods themselves. All the silly decisions, the absurd destinies, and the goofy characters are presented lightning-bolt fast with hysterical results as the clock is stopped with only seconds to spare.

I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts (US/UK)
(Musical Revue, Comedy / 2f, 2m)

This celebration of the mating game takes on the truths and myths behind that contemporary conundrum known as “the relationship.” Act I explores the journey from dating and waiting to love and marriage, while Act II reveals the agonies and triumphs of in-laws and newborns, trips in the family car and pick-up techniques of the geriatric set. This hilarious revue pays tribute to those who have loved and lost, to those who have fallen on their face at the portal of romance, to those who have dared to ask, “Say, what are you doing Saturday night?”

The Mamalogues by Lisa B. Thompson (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f)

The Mamalogues portrays the experience of parenting while Black, unmarried and middle class in the age of anxiety. During a single mother’s retreat, three women share their angst about racial profiling on the playground, their child being the “only one” at their school, and the politics of soccer in the hood. The satirical comedy follows the agonies and joys of motherhood as these moms lean in, stress out and guide precious Black children from diapers to college in a dangerous world.

Meteor Shower by Steve Martin (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 2m)

Corky and Norm are excited to host Gerald and Laura at their home in the valley outside Los Angeles to watch a once-in-a-li
fetime meteor shower. But as the stars come out and the conversation gets rolling, it becomes clear that Gerald and Laura might not be all that they appear to be. Over the course of a crazy, starlit dinner party, the wildly unexpected occurs. The couples begin to flirt and insanity reigns. Martin, using his trademark absurdist humor, bends the fluid nature of time and reality to create a surprising and unforgettably funny new play.

Murder for Two by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2 any gender)

Officer Marcus Moscowicz is a small-town policeman with dreams of making it to detective. One fateful night, shots ring out at the surprise birthday party of Great American Novelist Arthur Whitney and the writer is killed… fatally. With the nearest detective an hour away, Marcus jumps at the chance to prove his sleuthing skills—with the help of his silent partner, Lou. But whodunit? Did Dahlia Whitney, Arthur’s scene-stealing wife, give him a big finish? Is Barrette Lewis, the prima ballerina, the prime suspect? Did Dr. Griff, the overly-friendly psychiatrist, make a frenemy? Marcus has only a short amount of time to find the killer and make his name before the real detective arrives… and the ice cream melts!

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 2m)

In this hilarious satire of musical theatre, one story becomes five delightful musicals, each written in the distinctive style of a different master of the form, from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim. The basic plot: June is an ingenue who can’t pay the rent and is threatened by her evil landlord. Will the handsome leading man come to the rescue? The story is presented as if written by: Rodgers & Hammerstein, set in Kansas in August, complete with a dream ballet; Sondheim, featuring the landlord as a tortured artistic genius who slashes the throats of his tenants; Jerry Herman, as a splashy star vehicle; Andrew Lloyd Webber, as a rock musical with themes borrowed from Puccini; and Kander & Ebb, set in a Chicago speakeasy. This comic valentine to musical theatre was the longest-running show in the York Theatre Company’s 35-year history.

The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful by Charles Ludlam (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2m)

“Far and away the funniest two hours on a New York stage… What more meaningful gift could Ludlam bequeath [audiences] than to leave them eternally laughing.” – The New York Times. This definitive spoof of Gothic melodramas, recently revived off-Broadway to raves, is a quick-change marathon in which two actors play all the roles. A sympathetic werewolf, a vampire and an Egyptian princess brought to life when her tomb is opened make this a comedy that has everything.

Oedipus For Kids! by Robert Saferstein, Gil Varod and Kimberly Patterson (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dark Comedy / 1f, 2m)

“A spoof of children’s theater, with some truly funny songs and endearingly loopy performances from a cast of just three.” – Charles Isherwood, The New York Times. Unfolding in real-time, Oedipus for Kids! turns the audience into attendees of the latest performance of the Fuzzy Duck Theatre Company, a three-person troupe dedicated to performing the classics for children. Having had success with previous offerings such as Uncle Tommy’s Cabin and Titus Andronicus Bakes A Cake, company founder Alistair has decided that the next logical step is tackling Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. But all is not as pleasant as it seems with the Fuzzy Ducks.

Popcorn Falls by James Hindman (US)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2 any gender)

Zany! Magical! Charming! The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn them into a sewage treatment plant. Their only hope – open a theater! Two actors play over twenty roles in a world of farce, love and desperation, proving once and for all that art can save the world.

Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 6m)

Packed with thrills, romance, laughter and immortal characters like Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian, Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood tells the enduring story of a hero of the people who takes on the ruthless powers that be. So get ready to duck a quarterstaff or two – you won’t want to miss a moment of the swashbuckling fun!

Teechers by John Godber (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 1f, 2m)

Fast-moving and highly entertaining, Teechers evokes life at a modern school. Using the format of an end-of-term play, this radiant comedy reviews the new drama teacher’s progress through two terms of recalcitrant classes, cynical colleagues and obstructive caretakers. Disillusioned, he ultimately departs for a safer private school.

For more fun-filled, small-cast shows, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2018 Off Broadway Production of Popcorn Falls (Courtesy of James Hindman).