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A CurtainUp Review
The Musical of Musicals
By Elyse Sommer
--The Original Review
Musicals that make fun of other musicals range from annually updated shows like Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway, currently in its twentieth edition, to musicals that weave such send-ups into the fabric of the overall script like so many Ninas in a cartoon by the late Al Hirschfeld. Batboy, Urinetown, and The Producers are some recent high profile musicals noted for their cleverly integrated spoofery.
Composer-librettist Eric Rockwell and lyricist-librettist Joanne Bogart's The Musical of Musicals is a modest variant of this popular sport of putting on a show about other shows with amusingly naughty twists. In just a little more than an hour and a half, Rockwell and Bogart, who also make up half of the four-member cast, present five musicals parodying five very different styles. That means Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb. The focus is on these men's best known shows, with others thrown into the mix.
Each mini-musical is built around the same plot: a maiden named June (or, depending upon which show is getting a ribbing, Jeune, Junie Faye, Junita or Jitter) is in distress because she can't pay the rent. To the rescue comes a Dear Abby style older woman (a.k.a. Mother Abby, Auntie Abby, Abigail Von Schurr and Fraulein Abby) and her beau Bill (a.k.a. Big Willy, Billy, William and Villy).
A proscenium imprinted with repeats of the "I can't pay the rent" story line, a backdrop for projecting the names of the musical greats whose style will be featured next, a few chairs and an upright piano played mostly by Rockwell, but with the other three cast members spelling him as needed. That's the extent of York artistic direct James Morgan's set. Black pants and shirts are John Carver Sullivan's costume contributions.
Bogart and Rockwell cheerfully poke fun at what's missing in the way of costumes and props, thus turning the bare bones staging to their advantage; for example, the nonstop poses and pretend costume changes of Joanne Bogart's "Dear Abby" in the Jerry Herman parody and the imaginary Phantom of the Opera chandelier felling Juanita when it's time to send up the endless reprises and Puccini borrowings of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
What give this little multi-musical its snap is that Rockwell and Bogart have a clear understanding of the musical giants who inspire them. They've also managed to make their source material easy to recognize -- more like the Monday New York Times Crossword puzzle than the later in the week ones -- and the repeats of the "I Can't Pay the Rent " theme create their own unifying rhythm without being repetitious. Not to be overlooked is the zest of the ensemble, especially the irrepressible, impish Lovette George who gets to play all June characters.
As with most satirical shows, some things work better than others. Except for the final Kander & Ebb combination of Cabaret and Chicago, in which Rockwell is a marvelously manic MC/ rent hungry landlord, each piece strikes a few flat notes. There's also the recognition factor. No one is likely to miss " Beautiful Corn" as Rockwell and Bogart's take on Oklahoma's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." However, the fine points that distinguish Sondheim from Herrman and the allusions to other shows sprinkled in with the main references are likely to appeal to those the performers admit in their finale they had in mind when they wrote the show, "the cognescenti." As if to prove this point, the couple sitting next to me seemed to enjoy themselves during Corn (The Rogers & Hammerstein Oklahoma spoof) but had a glazed look during A Little Complex (the Sondheim section) and dozed during Dear Abby (the Herrman act). They left at intermission -- but the "cognescenti" laughed appreciatively throughout and applauded madly when the lights dimmed.
After being dark longer than usual, it's good to see the York Theatre back in action and fulfilling their very worthy mission of producing new musicals.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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