In the age of cellphones and e-mail, letter writing may well be a lost art. But, as the musical Found attests, it is not yet extinct - just attenuated. Bristling kiss-offs, to-do lists, and the occasional love note do still turn up - testaments to the human desire for connection, disconnection, self-improvement, and sweet revenge.
The show's inspiration is the story of Davy Rothbart, who began rescuing missives from car windshields, dumpsters, and elsewhere and publishing them in Found magazine. With a book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree, music and lyrics by Eli Bolin, and an assist from Story Pirates, the musical premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company in 2014. Philadelphia Theatre Company is giving this self-consciously quirky (and revamped) show a dazzling staging, with a cast and design team of Broadway veterans.
Found revolves around a trio of Midwestern slackers - Davy, Mikey D. and Denise - whose harmony is disrupted by a newcomer, the Los Angeles-based television producer Becka. The three friends publish a compendium of found notes as a magazine, and promote it with live shows at bars and bookstores.
Becka - whose note willing her skull to a friend turns up in the magazine - fancies Dave and imagines translating his creation to the big time. That means television, with all the bargains and betrayals that will entail.
The plot is strictly rom-com formula. But a few of the notes are very funny. One example: "If you love him, let him go. If he doesn't return, hunt him down and kill him." Or this literary gem: "You have to make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. It was either the best of times or the worst of times."
The letters, projected on a video screen and voiced by cast members, are interpolated as wry commentary on the action. there are some occasional musical reenactments, including one oddity about a woman who leaves a bachelorette party for a fling with a married man - who then declines to provide his cellphone number.
Bolin's score is a skillful pastiche. There's a dead-on Bob Fosse All that Jazz parody, juiced by Connor Gallagher's sly choreography; rock-inflected Sondheim; echoes of Grease and Rent, and raise-the-roof soul.
Set designer David Korins (Hamilton) provides a wall of letters that showcases Justin Townsend's psychedelic lighting and Darrel Maloney's clever projections.
F. Michael Haynie's Davy is an Everyman who frequently loses his way. Under Overtree's direction, the rest of the vocally gifted ensemble - including Alysha Deslorieux's Denise, Juwan Crawley's Mikey D., and Erika Henningsen's Becka - deliver precise moments of humor and wistfulness.
Found's takeaways are these: "Stay weird" - and don't sell out your friends. The letters, from a primer on kissing to assorted farewells, hint at the costs of both isolation and intimacy. But Found doesn't really aspire to profundity. This PTC production aims for polished, high-spirited fun, and it hits the mark.