Musical of Musicals, the Musical!
f you're a fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb, then the ultra-fabulous Musical of Musicals, the Musical!, now blowing the roof off of Theater LaB, is just the song-and-dance fix for you.
This hilarious parody by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart appropriates the style of the above-mentioned Broadway tunesmiths and creates five mini shows, all with the same plot. Naive, sweet June (or Jeune, Junie Faye, Junita, Juny), in love with Big Willy (Billy, William, Bill, Villy), can't pay the rent. The lascivious landlord Jidder (Jitter, Mr. Jitters, Phantom Jitter, Jütter) offers her marriage in lieu of payment. Her best friend and confidante Mother Abby (Abby, Auntie Abby, Abigail Von Schtarr, Fräulein Abby) offers advice and uplifting anthems.
The show is both loving tribute and peerless screwing of the composers' most recognizable, idiosyncratic features. "Corn" bashes R&H's faux naturalism; "A Little Complex" gores Sondheim's neurotic brilliantine; "Dear Abby" celebrates Herman's showy retrograde; "Aspects of Juanita" knocks Webber's operatic lushness and repetitiveness; and "Speakeasy" positively perspires with Kander and Ebb's homoerotic sophistication. Musical isn't for novices. If you haven't seen a musical in 50 years, none of this spoof's sublime shenanigans will seem the least bit funny; the references come too fast and furious. But, if you're a real show queen, you won't stop laughing, not least, of course, because the music knockoffs are so first-rate: the syncopated jazz throb of Kander and Ebb, the angled melodic tics of Sondheim, the overheated "over the top"-ness of Webber.
The cast is sublime. Under Jimmy Phillips's fast-paced direction and spot-on choreography, the goofy quartet of Haley Dyes, Dylan Godwin, Melodie Smith and Phillips throws itself at the material with all the brazen chutzpah of a Broadway gypsy auditioning for David Merrick. With these talented loons — and musical director Steven Jones, who plays the solo piano score as if it were orchestrated by Rodney Russell Bennett — the scenery isn't chewed so much as savored like fine cuisine. Theater LaB's shoebox space explodes with devilish glee.
The style of Broadway composer Cy Coleman would never be parodied in a show like Musical of Musicals, because he has no style. A veteran musician and pro from the old school, his music served whatever libretto he was given, without fault. He was like the Hollywood directors of the second tier, a Victor Fleming or George Cukor who could churn out a classic movie when the script was exceptional, but whose work, overall, was serviceable and without visual distinction, unlike a Sternberg, Ford or DeMille. Coleman could write a hit tune with the best of them ("Hey Look Me Over" from Redhead; "I've Got Your Number" from Little Me; "If My Friends Could See Me Now" from Sweet Charity), and his scores won three Tony awards (The Will Rogers Follies, On the Twentieth Century and City of Angels), but his shows are memorable mostly because of hotshot directors like Bob Fosse or Tommy Tune, or flashy concepts, not because of his tunes.
City of Angels, on view in a gorgeously sung production from Masquerade Theatre, is a case in point. A multiple-award winner, the show ran two years, then promptly disappeared. Long overdue, its revival gives us the opportunity to judge the show without hype. At the time, it was applauded for its concept and novel set design. As the story goes, novelist Stine (Luther Chakurian) adapts his detective novel for Hollywood, but his screenplay's main character Stone (Ilich Guardiola) keeps interfering with the plot and Stine's personal life. What had audiences talking was that the film noir movie scenes were in black and white. Too bad the concept is the best thing going for the musical. The "movie" plot, a hot-blooded '40s potboiler, is much more interesting than Stine's tribulations with the filmmaking philistines of California. Every time the "present" overtakes the past, we start to fidget, because we've seen this so many times before — the committed writer with his constant compromises with the big, bad studio — that there's no surprise in it anymore. It's been its own cliché for decades, way before Fitzgerald and Faulkner butted heads with the likes of the Brothers Warner and Louis B. Mayer.
The black-and-white concept eludes the usually diligent Masquerade — there's no great distinction between the film world and the actual, so we get muddy instead of chiaroscuro. Also, somewhere during Act II, the tone shifts uncomfortably. Suddenly the "noir" veers toward the comic, as if Abbott and Costello got spliced into Double Indemnity.
What does work, naturally, is the exceptional singing by the entire company (especially Kristina Sullivan as Stine's wife and Stone's girlfriend, and Brad Scarborough as the big-band crooner), the deft movement conceived by choreographers Stephanie Bradow, Laura Gray and Braden Hunt, and the truly amazing orchestra, which sounds as if it were the New York Philharmonic. — DLG
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