You will be forgiven if the phrase “Pop Up Video” seems only vaguely familiar. The 1990s VH1 program played music videos with little notes of trivia or random innuendos occasionally popping up on the screen during the song (Royce looked this up on Wikipedia). The show fed and contributed to the unquenchable millennial thirst for snarky commentary (he made this up on his own).
Plymouth Playhouse, built on the rock of earnest and gentle spoofs (“Church Basement Ladies,” “How to Talk Minnesotan”), is now host to “Pop Up Musical,” a live performance that uses the pop-up gambit. Four vocalists chew through a couple dozen Broadway tunes while bits of information are projected on screens or held up on placards by the singers.
This frothy entertainment was a hit at the 2012 Minnesota Fringe Festival (where snark is encouraged) and the four performers have expanded it to 90 minutes (including an intermission, so about 75 minutes of show).
So we learn that “76 Trombones” and “Goodnight My Someone” from “Music Man” used the same tune with different time signatures (check it out, it’s true). And that Ben Vereen (1973) and Patina Miller (2013) both won Tonys for “Pippin,” the only time that actors of different genders have won for the same role. Or that Sinatra resented Brando in “Guys and Dolls” (already knew) and that Christopher Plummer hated working on what he called “Sound of Mucus.”
It’s a one-joke pony (oh, how original) but somehow this slight revue manages to hold up. The singers — Jennifer Eckes, Timm Holmly, Judi Gronseth, Kevin Werner Hohlstein — might have asked a director to look at them before they went onstage, and a music director certainly would have had an idea. The stage folderol, for example, can distract from fine singing moments — which happens when Eckes and Werner Hohlstein nail “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Finally, the production would look and sound better with a live band instead of a cheesy piped-in soundtrack (that stuff costs money, buddy).
However, they all sing well enough (Eckes is very easy to listen to) and I give them credit for digging relentlessly into their personal troves of meaningless information to make the pop-ups at least curious (the critic’s very definition of grudging praise). For example, “La Cage aux Folles” opened a revival on Dec. 9, 2004, which was “Kevin’s birthday.” Holmly played Daddy Warbucks in 1989 and 2009. Someone met someone at a party somewhere. Someone had to dig that stuff up.
The whole thing has the sense of humor and the overriding aesthetic of a Carol Burnett sketch, with less substance (oh how witty, how droll). Holmly even has the shadow of Harvey Korman in his face (if Harvey had shaved his head and wore a goatee).
I’d assumed (weren’t you taught in journalism school about “assuming?”) that “Pop Up Musical” would evaporate within 15 minutes. It manages, though, to keep us mildly distracted and entertained (if you like this sort of thing).