Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The real life creator of Found magazine Davy Rothbart is the basis for the musical's protagonist. During the course of one really weird day, Davy (played with goofy charm by F. Michael Haynie) finds an angry message mistakenly left on the windshield of his Toyota Camry. Touched by the raw emotion and humorous contradictions in the letter, Davy brings it home to show his roommates, childhood friend Mikey D. (the impressive Juwan Crawley) and nascent love interest Denise (Alysha Deslorieux gives an authentic and excellent performance). The three friends start searching for, collecting, and sharing any interesting messages they come across.
When the trio decides they have enough content to publish a magazine, the random hobby seems poised to become a meaningful creative outlet. Denise arranges for Davy to start making public appearances reading found letters and promoting the magazine, but just when things start taking off, a young attractive television producer captures Davy's attention and creative imagination.
The rest of the uncomplicated plot is standard issue romantic comedy, but that doesn't matter too much because the best parts of the show are the found lists, letters and flyers that weave their way into Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree's book and Eli Bolin's score. The dialogue is cleverly punctuated by members of the ensemble who pop onto the stage just long enough to read an appropriate found note. Sometimes these letters are humorously insightful and other times they are hilariously random. Found messages are set to music throughout with delightful results. The impressively energetic ensemble makes the most of the stochastic interjections creating an endless variety of interesting characters, sometimes around nothing more than a single line of writing. The extremely funny Christina Anthony, Molly Pope, and Graham Stevens are especially good at mining the humor from these texts.
Found has been significantly revised since its 2014 premier at the Atlantic Theater Company, but there is still room for improvement. The opening number, "Weird Day," is one of the weakest and gets an otherwise solid production off to a shaky start. The Johnny Tremain sequence is extremely funny, but it goes on for about twice as long as necessary. David Korins' set design keeps the orchestra on stage and allows them to effectively interact with the cast without being distracting, but the stage is too raised and set back for the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. I suggest avoiding seats in the first three rows to avoid a neck injury.
Lee Overtree's production of Found is a weird and wonderful celebration of the written word. Although it can feel a bit like peeking into people's windows, there is ultimately something uplifting and universal about these notes and letters. Recasting other people's discarded bits of writing as art is nothing new, but Found may represent the first time such random bits of text have been transformed into the basis of a musical comedy and it is tremendous.
Found runs through December 11, 2016, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. For tickets call (215) 985-0420 or visit www.PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.