By Thom Geier
Updated October 14, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT
Kevin Thomas Garcia

Serendipity and missed connections are the stuff of many a musical comedy, and they’re put to clever use in the fact-based chamber musical Found, playing at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company through Nov. 9. A decade ago, Chicago native Davy Rothbart began collecting discarded letters, lists, posters, mash notes, break-up letters, etc., and started publishing them in a zine that led to a popular live-reading tour and NPR gigs.

It’s too bad that the show’s conceit isn’t matched by the plot, a twentysomething love triangle wrapped up in a meta-narrative about the creation of Rothbart’s Found Magazine brand. The book is by Hunter Bell, co-creator of another meta-musical, title of show, and Lee Overtree, a co-founder of Story Pirates who also directs the production. What we get is an overlong, utterly predictable story about Davy (Godspell‘s Nick Blaemire) founding his zine, launching a reading tour with his partner in crime and unrequited love (Heathers‘ Barrett Wilbert Weed), and then heading to L.A. with a pretty aspiring TV producer (Betsy Morgan) to see if he can transform Found into a slightly higher-brow version of America’s Funniest Home Videos. (Spoiler alert: He can’t.)

Found documents wallpaper the walls of David Korins’ set at ATC’s Linda Gross Theater, while others are projected there (by Darrel Maloney) to provide both authenticity and read-along supertitles for the dialogue and lyrics. Scenes are punctuated by the addition of this ephemera—recited by the hard-working cast of 10, which includes Community star Danny Pudi. The effect is often witty, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but the device also robs the story and characters of the element of surprise: When the subtext is projected onto the stage, after all, it just becomes text.

Eli Bolin’s score has a similar tossed-off quality, with pleasant but mostly forgettable pop tunes whose lyrical line must follow the rhythms of each found document. One stand-out is Weed’s sweetly sung second-act ballad ”Barf Bag Breakup.” This is a modest show whose admirably modest ambitions can be undercut by the two act, 2 hour and 15 minute running time. In fact, Found‘s underlying message seems to be: Chase your dreams, but don’t dream too big. C+