Like all good ideas, the concept for Live on Stage's 4x4=8 Musicals was stolen. The mob of mini-musicals, all performed within the limits of a four-by-four-foot wooden platform, takes its small-stage concept from the popular local series Ten Tiny Dances. Following a sold-out and rave-reviewed 2012 run, 4x4, produced by John Oules and curated by Mark LaPierre, returns now as part of the Fertile Ground Festival of new works.

The physical constraints of 4x4’s staging call for added creativity from not just the show’s choreographers, but the whole cohort of cast and crew, from writers to actors. By distilling the stage to a simple wooden platform and limiting props, the production fosters an innovative environment ripe for new theatrical tricks and turns. However, as I sat in the audience, eager to be entertained, I found myself at times struggling to hear the words over the music—and to find real, laugh-out-loud humor in the pieces.

The gaggle of musicals runs the gamut of theme and scene. The show starts in a beautifully basic way with The Adventure of the Case, which zeroes in on a man (Sammuel Hawkins) trying to extricate himself from the glass box he’s been mysteriously entombed in.  Over the rest of the show, the ensemble cast dances, sings, sits, and “drives” us through myriad scenes, swerving from the tangle of a failing relationship (Rebecca Teran and Morgan Mallory), where the stage serves as car for a roadtrip to the Grand Canyon, to a coy high school almost-romance that must brave the familiar awkwardness of seven minutes in Heaven (Ashlee Waldbauer and Bryce Earheart), here stage functioning as closet.

Live on Stage's 4x4=8 Musicals runs through Saturday, January 26. Although fast-paced and peppered with wit, 4x4’s musicals swim on a shallow level. Even with constant chuckling coming from folks around me, I found myself wishing to laugh louder, to think deeper. Maybe the concept is intended to be more intriguing than the content, or maybe I hung my expectations too high given the glow emanating from last year’s production, but even after a night full of excellent acting, 4x4 left me remarkably unmoved.

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