Every couple of years LA's intimate theaters produce a musical that gives the big theaters a run for their money.
Right now it’s IAMA Theatre Company's "Found: A New Musical."
It starts off a little awkwardly. We're in a bar in Chicago with some disgruntled 30 somethings. Denise, the bartender, went to art school but can't find a better gig than slinging shots. She's got a punk vibe and a bruised heart — so you can sense the setup there. Mikey doesn't have a job or a lover but he's got his old friend Davy who pays the rent and generally keeps him afloat. Davy's our protagonist and — at least at the top of the scene — he's got a job but not one he likes. Davy looks around the bar and beefs that everyone is on cell phones; no one is really connecting with one another. He makes a half-hearted attempt to get everyone in the bar to put down the devices and be together. It sort of flops.
Moments later, his own phone alerts him, via text of course, that he's been fired. This is an epiphany for Davy. Tired of this crap, he sings to Denise: “I wanna do something that I love, and do it with people that I love.”
Lo and behold, on the way back to his car, he discovers that what he thought was a parking ticket is actually a pissed-off little love note that mistook his car for someone else's. Let's just say someone named Amber is angry at someone named Mario — and the note is kinda great.
Next day, the three friends reconnect around this note, imagining all the different personas that could fit Amber and Mario. Then they discover that this *found* note is their future: They’re going to start a zine! (Remember those?)
"Found" is not only the title of the musical, it's the title of an actual magazine that was started by Davy Rothbart. The magazine — and book that followed — published all kinds of found notes: humorous "to-do" lists, love notes, sad notes, folks looking for love. The musical is loosely based on the creation and near demise of that publication. The musical was first produced in 2014 by New York’s Atlantic Theatre Company.
Now, at first, this seems like sparse material for a musical. Yes, we've got our vaguely "Rent"-y group of friends sans a plague (or maybe the plague is social media disconnection and student loans?). We've got our two lovers who can't be lovers and their charming gay friend. But our plot is based, literally, on scraps of paper. These notes come to life as songs performed by the surrounding quirky and lovely cast. Suddenly, a wanted ad becomes a musical number.
It's a little odd … but fun.
But as the musical finds its legs, it grows on you. Perfect for LA, the plot complication of the second out involves selling out to get a TV pilot and by then, these little found notes become quick sardonic commentaries on the action.
But the real charm is seeing a musical brought to life with this much gusto in a space this small. Yes, you get ahead of the love story and, yes, it feels a little thrown together but there's such joy to it that you'll find yourself forgiving those faults.
This is a good one to see with friends and maybe a drink or two, after all, it's set in a bar. And pay attention to whether "Found" finds an LA audience. If it does that’ll be a positive sign not just for IAMA Theatre Company but for great work in small theaters across LA.
"Found: A New Musical" plays at LATC in downtown LA through March 23rd.