Although there isn’t a kitten or a puppy in sight, “Found” is so cute, it’s almost too cute. Helmer Lee Overtree has been extremely clever in staging this quirky musical, which he co-wrote with Hunter Bell (“[title of show]”) from discarded notes rescued and printed by Davy Rothbart in Found Magazine. What the helmer hasn’t been is ruthless. Adorable as it is, this exhilarating show would have a better chance of attracting the eyeballs of regional presenters if it shed two members of a 10-body cast and cut about 20 minutes of lame jokes from the playing time.
Rothbart, the co-creator and editor of Found Magazine, has explained his mission (and the inspiration for this show) very well: “I think there’s a magic in the found notes — you find a little scrap of paper blowing down the street, or the floor of the city bus, and it gives you this really incredible window into this other person’s life.”
Although it looks as light as a feather, this smartly engineered bandbox musical manages to support two focuses: the story of Found Magazine and its creators, plus the individual storylines for all the anonymous nobodies whose castaway jottings (to themselves and others) occasioned the show. The funniest and most engaging moments are those in which the narratives converge, allowing the free-floating thoughts in the notes to comment on whatever the principal characters happen to be doing.
Although it must have been harrowing to live through, the creation myth of Found Magazine has classic bones. Good-natured slacker guy Davy (Nick Blaemire, totally endearing) is bopping along, as slacker guys do, having a really bad day when his eye is caught by a piece of paper stuck to his windshield. Parking ticket? No, an angry missive from someone named Amber to someone named Mario, telling him off (“I fucking hate you!”) for cheating on her, and ending with the plaintive request to “page me later.”
Light dawns, giving Davy the inspiration of collecting and publishing more lost, forgotten, or tossed-off gems like Amber’s rant. With the help of his best friends, Denise (Barrett Wilbert Weed, big of voice and long on charm), and Mikey D (Daniel Everidge, funny guy dressed in funny clothes), Found Magazine gets off the ground.
For a while, “Found” coasts along on the appeal of these ephemeral scraps of paper, which come at you from all sides. Like messages sent to sea in bottles, they have no definition and no context, so anyone can make of them what they will.
The cast of four principals and six chorus players deliver some of these mini-dramas in pop-up quickies. (“Dear Frank, I am boning a co-worker. Chuck.”) Others are worked into the narrative about Davy and his friends. (“You never kiss me when you see me,” Denise is thinking of Davy when she sings this text.) And some get the full musical treatment from Eli Bolin, who supplies an upbeat score that’s a little bit rock, a little bit pop, and easy-listening all around. (The notes of three ninth graders who love math are turned into a fully staged number called “Pi Shop”.)
Visually, the show is a lot of fun to watch. David Korins’ amusing wallpaper set is plastered with blow-ups of the hand-written missives. Darrel Maloney’s projections keep coming at you fast and furious. And clever choreographer Monica Bill Barnes has drilled the cast in stylized arm and leg movements that are more interesting and wittier than formal dance steps.
Things tend to slow down whenever the book dwells on the growing pains of Found magazine and its creators. Davy is perfectly happy, as are his two partners, to publish the magazine and win new readers by talking it up and taking it on the road. But he has the misfortune to meet and fall in love with Katie (Betsy Morgan), a TV producer who convinces Davy to go along with her ambitious plans to expand the brand as a TV series. This leads to all kinds of complications and bad feelings among friends.
But thank goodness, nothing stops the sad, lonely, angry, pathetic citizens of New York from leaving pieces of their hearts lying around for Davy to find. “They make me feel less alone,” he says. And in the end, he realizes that he can’t live without their voices in his ear.