At the end of July, Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells were in town for a rehearsal workshop for their next project and took in a few Broadway shows together. They posed for pictures together on the red carpet and people were delighted to see them as a pair again, 11 years after they ended their run in the show that not only made them stars, but indelibly linked them to one another.
“We used to joke during The Book of Mormon that we will both be mentioned in each other's obituary,” says Rannells.
“I can’t wait to read yours,” says Gad.
“Why am I dying first?” asks Rannells.
“You live hard and fast,” answers Gad, matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, well, that’s probably true,” concedes Rannells.
That easy patter they share in real life translates to the kind of undeniable onstage chemistry held by only the greatest of comedy duos. So, it’s only fitting that director Alex Timbers would want to once again put that magic on Broadway. Rannells and Gad will be co-starring in the Main Stem debut of Gutenberg! The Musical!, which begins previews September 15 ahead of an October 12 opening at the James Earl Jones Theatre.
“Andrew and I were short on cash. And our other industry started striking. So, we were like, ‘Hey Broadway. You up?” Gad begins to explain how the project to came to them before Rannells interrupts with the “real” answer, as was often the case in speaking with the pair.
“We had both been chasing Alex Timbers for a while on different projects,” says Rannells. (Gad chimes in: “I wanted to do A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Andrew wanted to do Bye, Bye, Birdie.” Rannells: “That’s not true.”)
But Timbers wanted them to take a look at the Scott Brown and Anthony King musical. He’d directed the Off-Broadway premiere of the show in 2006 (with Chris Fitzgerald and Jeremy Shamos) and wanted to bring it back. In the years since, Gutenberg has had a healthy life regionally and internationally. “We were floored by how funny it was,” says Gad. Then they all got together and read it out loud and started making plans. But then March 2020 happened and all plans were cancelled.
Well, postponed rather, because now, three years later, it’s happening. Gad will be playing Bud and Rannells will play Doug (Although Gad suggests he wanted to “True West it” and alternate playing the parts, but “Andrew was not about it.” Rannells again: “That’s also not true.”)
In the musical, the two would-be theatremakers have written a musical about Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. “But there isn’t a ton of information available about him, so they just start making things up. And they're doing a presentation for the very first time in front of a live audience with the hopes of actually moving their musical to Broadway,” explains Rannells.
Here, Gad chimes in: “Can I make just a quick alt? It's like Hamilton without any of the things that make Hamilton, Hamilton.”
Concedes Rannells, “That’s also a good explanation.”
But the musical isn’t really about any of that. Answering seriously this time, Gad says, “It's a love letter to musicals as performed by two guys who think they know a lot about musicals based on seeing very few musicals."
Adds Rannells: “These guys are not cynical guys. They've taken everything they have and put it into this one night. And that's a hopeful person that does that."
Gad continues: “So much of art in the 21st century, is driven by a communal cynicism. But these guys are these innocent vessels of pureness and joy… This show beats you over the head with earnestness, and you start off laughing at it until you get sucked into it, and then you fall in love with it.”