Two middle-aged musical comedy writers — with mid-level credits but impressive websites — receive emails commissioning them to write a gala new musical out-of-town. Way out-of-town, in the emirate of Qatar on the Persian Gulf, to inaugurate the largest domed soccer stadium in the world. The hapless scribes — self-described as “two short Jews who write musical comedy” — see themselves as a modern-day equivalent to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on “The Road to Qatar.” What might serve as the basis for an amusing comic sketch turns out to be neither comic nor amusing; after some promising early moments, this road trip dead-ends in the desert.
The fact that this is a true story intrigues but ultimately doesn’t help. Lyricist-librettist Stephen Cole (“After the Fair”) and composer David Krane (best-known as a top dance arranger for Susan Stroman and John Kander) were hired in 2005 by the Emir of Qatar to create the one-performance spectacle “Aspire,” which featured a pyramid-sized set, 20 camels and a flying carpet. Returning Stateside, they are determined to write a musical about writing that musical. This is something like a traditional musical comedy version of meta-tuner “[title of show”], only with those aforementioned short Jews chased by Middle Eastern terrorists. Or musical comedy terrorists, as the lyrics put it.
Not helping matters is the score, which is at best functional. The title song builds like a good musical comedy title song should, and “Aspire” — the title song of the 2005 version — serves as something of a parody of those inspirational Disney-like theme songs. But the rest of the score, here played by a five-piece band, grows quickly repetitive. The book is full of self-deprecating humor; the librettist so likes his joke about the composer’s mother’s size 22 panties from K-Mart that he repeats it twice.
Director Phillip George, a veteran of “Forbidden Broadway,” stocks the show with often-inventive sight gags, but there is only so much he can do with the material. Ditto designers Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, who add puppets to the mix. Keith Gerchak and James Beaman play the composer and lyricist with comic zest, while Sarah Stiles — a Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut replacement in “Avenue Q” — stands out as the Lebanese translator Nazirah (doubling as the composer’s mother and other roles). Bill Nolte and Bruce Warren have the hapless task of playing all the other men. Playgoers who enjoy watching overweight actors in Arab garb tap dance and perspire will have their fill at “Qatar.” Only don’t blame the actors.