- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A day after seeing himself onstage, Davy Rothbart was still a little dazed. The celebratory drinks afterward sure didn’t hurt, but those weren’t what kept him floored.

He’d just watched an actor portray him in a new, semi-fictionalized musical account of the way he’d started the super-cool magazine “Found” and how its success nearly destroyed him.

“It’s like looking at a funhouse mirror and seeing your own life reflected back to you,” Rothbart said over coffee while waiting for a movie. “It’s a really wild ride. It was like doing mushrooms.”

A drug metaphor is sort of appropriate for the quirky and surreal musical itself. “Found,” now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company, is a rollicking account of how Rothbart built a mini-empire on misdirected or discarded notes and other ephemera that litter the streets.

“Found” magazine - and its website - is a fascinating compilation of poetry on napkins, to-do lists, misdirected emails, love letters, random notes and scribbles. They are sometimes funny or scary and often touching. Or weird. One reads: “You bring the paper bag, I’ll bring the handcuffs… let’s party.”

“You get to see people at their most unselfconscious. There’s a truth to them,” says Rothbart. “They’re so un-self-conscious, revealing, honest and raw.” His mother calls them “people watching on paper.”

He stumbled over the concept in 2000 after finding a misdirected note on his car windshield intended for a cheating boyfriend. Celebrating such notes has spawned a magazine, tours in which Rothbart reads aloud the notes, and art gallery installations.

Now, as unlikely as it sounds, it’s a musical, with a book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree, and music and lyrics by Eli Bolin. Bell wrote the Obie-winning “(title of show),” while Overtree and Bolin have worked with Story Pirates, which makes theatrical shows from stories written by kids.

The creators pored over the magazine’s archive of some 10,000 notes, putting some into projected thought bubbles, wry commentary on the action - “You are here in the friend zone. That’s all” - and song lyrics. Rothbart offered feedback but stayed out of the creating process.

The bizarre and funny tunes include the bizarre childish rambling “Cats Are Cats” - including the indecipherable word “dlerd” that is faithfully sung - and the he-man musings of “Lord Patrick, King of the Ladies.” Only names and phone numbers have been changed to protect the real authors.

Actor Nick Blaemire, who has been on Broadway in “Godspell” and “Cry-Baby,” plays Rothbart and he and the cast - including Barrett Wilbert Weed and Betsy Morgan, who play romantic rivals - have wrestled with wrapping their heads around a complex show with some 600 different cues.

“I haven’t been able to explain it to anybody. I just say, ‘You have to come see it.’ In rehearsal, we all had that actor’s fear of, ‘Am I in a thing that’s unexplainable?’ And then we realized, ‘Yes, I am - in the best way.’”

Critics have applauded the effort, with the New York Post calling it “the best date-night show of the season” and The New York Times declaring it an “engaging oddball of a musical” and “imperfect but endearing.”

Rothbart, who has also become a writer and filmmaker, says the musical captures what he loves about “Found,” which is “celebrating our collective weirdness.”

“When you’re laughing at a found note, you’re laughing at yourself,” he says. “You know you’ve written that same pitiful love letter or to-do list or journal entry. We’ve all been there. Or maybe we’ve never been there but we can imagine what it’s like.”


Online: https://atlantictheater.org


Mark Kennedy is at https://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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