The Musical of Musicals Reviewed

Some might argue that the current state of the mainstream musical, with its stunt casting, self-referencing and endless dependence on adaptations over original ideas is a parody of itself. But not Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell, who have created their very own spoof of the genre called what else? — The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!.

Bogart wrote the lyrics while Rockwell composed the music, with the two collaborating on the book, a quintet of vignettes that lovingly lifts from the styles of five of Broadways most distinct musical voices: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb.  Bogart and Rockwell also star in their show, whose cast also includes Craig Fols and Lovette George.

Musical, which debuted in 2003 but recently found a new home occupying a blissfully small space at Dodger Stages also pays tribute to a newer entry into the musical canon, Rent, with the premise that thematically links each of the very different one-acts.  Different characters’ needs to pay their rent drive them to wit’s end in various situations.  In the first sequence, a milange of Oklahoma, The Sound of Music and South Pacific, among others, June (George) must wed the menacing Jidder (Rockwell).  It all sounds very Oklahoman, indeed, until Mother Abby (Bogart) sings a riff on “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” exhorting June to follow her dream, marrying Big Willy (Fols), until she dies.  These characters morph through the five sketches.  For instance, the sunny, cunning June from the Rodgers & Hammerstein sequence becomes the more neurotic Jeune in the Sondheim version, Mother Abby becomes Abby, the death-fixated neighbor, etc.

The cast of The Musical of Musicals

Bogart and Rockwell kid their inspirations, but only because they love.  They demonstrate a clear affinity for the musicals and stylings they mock, and the more familiar audiences are with these shows, the more they will recognize and enjoy the parodies.  Yet these creators do not necessarily deserve equal time.  The Sondheim send-up includes numbers from Company, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and West Side Story, but leaves no room for a version of his most accomplished number, “Send in the Clowns.”  On the other hand, Bogart and Rockwell practically exhaust the Herman oeuvre which includes Hello, Dolly, La Cage Aux Folles and Mame — with their constant grand entrances.  We get: Herman was redundant.  Director Pamela Hunt would have done good to cut this sketch down by a good ten minutes.  But there is one pointed barb, as Auntie Abby (Bogart), the diva-like star, says “I can’t sing or dance, but I’m the star of the show,” a reference to musically talent-impaired stars Carol Channing and Ethel Merman.

The Webber section of course, is ripe for picking.  Bogart and Rockwell mock his thievery of the work of Puccini in Cats, as well as Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express and Sunset Blvd.  Rockwell gets in an additional jab with the line “Scene change.  The audience applauds out of habit.”  The final loving tribute focuses mostly on Cabaret and Chicago, Kander & Ebb’s most famous works, complete with Fosse-esque choreography courtesy of Hunt.  However, this one-act eschews such other great, spoof-worthy scores as The Happy Time, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Woman of the Year. Interestingly, while the musical fails to mock The Act and The Rink, it does get several jabs in at the star of those shows, Kander & Ebb muse Liza Minnelli.

Fun as it is, Musical might do good to follow the example set by Forbidden Broadway and choose new composers or shows to parody, or at least parody these same composers with some kind of new premise.  Having said that, however, any fan of the sound of music of the night would be remiss if they failed to catch this gem.

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