A Musical About Gutenberg? Yes, It’s True (Actually, None of it is True)
Like any self-respecting editor of a publication about printing, when I heard there was a Broadway musical purportedly about the life of Johannes Gutenberg (i.e., “Gutenberg! The Musical!”), I felt it was my duty to attend. Why not be entertained while learning crucial details about the father of the printing press, right?
Though amusing and lively, the play was overall quite silly (and more than a little absurd). Held at the ornate and cozy James Earl Jones Theatre on West 48th Street, it featured a three-piece band and two enthusiastic guys, Broadway veterans Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad, original stars in the 2011 Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon." They frolicked about the stage, wisecracking, singing silly songs, doing strange dances, and popping a variety of labeled hats onto their heads to signify the different characters they were portraying.
Among those characters was Gutenberg, who in this rendering was a clean-cut innocent who paraded through town singing, much like Belle in the opening scene of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And also like in a Disney production, there was a cartoonish villain: an evil monk determined to destroy the press Gutenberg invented (out of a wine press?) and keep the citizenry illiterate.
The duo made the most of the sparse set; the famous press itself was represented by a box with the words “printing press” written on it. For a play about Gutenberg, though, it didn’t have much to do with the life of the real Johannes Gutenberg, the German inventor and craftsman who introduced letterpress printing to Europe with his movable-type printing press.
To be fair, however, the play never intended to be accurate. The story centers around two hopeful performers who decide to write a Broadway show based on Gutenberg using whatever they find on Google. They don’t turn up much information, so they decide to make it all up and present it to a live audience anyway, hoping a producer will give them a shot.
I was hoping for some hidden printing references that only printers would chuckle at, but there was nothing like that, other than a character named Helvetica. Perhaps most eye-rolling for a real printer is the idea that Gutenberg turned a simple wine press into printing press: “I’m gonna take the grapes out and put letters in,” he sang. Good grief.
All that aside, the actors have my respect for maintaining such enthusiasm and energy throughout the performance. They were witty and entertaining, and while I didn’t learn anything at all about Gutenberg, I was certainly amused for a couple of hours.
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.