THEATER: Sing praise of 'Musicals'

Pun-filled tribute to the genre

 

By Jayne Blanchard

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

 

It's no good sitting alone in your room. So put on your Sunday clothes, and don't cry for me, Argentina, because life is a cabaret, old chum.

That's a sampling of the melodic mayhem in store for lovers of all things Broadway at "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)," MetroStage's encore production of Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's pun-filled lullaby to musical-theater titans. The razzle-dazzle and broad comedy of "Musical of Musicals," first presented in 2007, have not dimmed one watt. And with the addition of Matthew A. Anderson to the original cast of Janine Gulisano-Sunday, Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, the star power and unabashed joy have even increased.

Directed with high-energy cheekiness by Larry Kaye, "Musical of Musicals" lovingly parodies 50 years of Broadway conventions and song styles in less time than it takes to sit through "Les Miserables." Mr. Rockwell and Miss Bogart borrow the basic story line from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" — wholesome cowpoke (Mr. Anderson) is a-courtin' prairie ingenue June (Miss Gulisano-Sunday) but almost loses her to evil landlord Jidder (Mr. Smith) while Abby (Miss Migliaccio) stands by to dispense wise counsel and belt out big numbers — and present it a la Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.

Doug Lawler provides excellent piano accompaniment along with the occasional commentary. There also are droll stage directions — instructing audience members, for example, to applaud the chandelier and lighting changes.

Yet every skewering is delightfully on-target, starting with the maize-glutted tribute "Oh, What Beautiful Corn!" Rodgers and Hammerstein's penchant for sentimental duets and storytelling songs is satirized in such lyrics as "A chipmunk is reading the Bible/he's got to be carefully taught" and "What's that in my tooth?/A kernel of truth." The requisite dream ballet is given a "run of De Mille" treatment in an unhinged pas de deux by Mr. Anderson and Miss Gulisano-Sunday.

The Jerry Herman segment spoofs the composer's penchant for ever-escalating showstoppers and easily digestible ditties with gung-ho lyrics. Meanwhile, Mr. Webber's reputation for wall-to-wall music and ripping off Puccini is sent up in "Aspects of Junita," which features the mysterious Phantom (Mr. Smith), who tears off his mask to reveal he's a deadpan cat from T.S. Eliot.

We Washingtonians love our Kander and Ebb, and "Speakeasy" lampoons the Broadway legends' love of gender-bending characters, scanty lingerie and hip-thrusting Bob Fosse choreography. Mr. Anderson goes above and beyond as the polysexual Villy. So does Miss Migliaccio as the basso-voiced chanteuse whose delivery of the world-weary torch song brought the evening's biggest laughs.

You want subtlety? Go see a Michael John LaChiusa chamber musical. "The Musical of Musicals" is broader than Ethel Merman's high C and infinitely more entertaining.

««««

WHAT: "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" music by Eric Rockwell, lyrics by Joanne Bogart, book by Mr. Rockwell and Miss Bogart

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 18.

TICKETS: $45 to $50

PHONE: 703/548-9044

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



 

 

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)

 

by Steven McKnight

September 1, 2009   

momtmMusical theatre lovers will be thrilled to know that The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) is back and better than ever.  MetroStage has chosen to revive their hit 2007 production to kick off its 25th season, and Washington audiences get one more chance to experience its pure satirical fun.

 

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) is a musical parody of five Broadway legends:  Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb.  The production tells the same basic story five different times in the distinct musical styles of these composers.

 

In each story, the sweet young ingénue can’t pay the rent and is threatened with eviction or worse by the evil landlord.  After she seeks advice from the sage older woman, the romantic male lead steps in to save the day.

 

Creators Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart have written a gentle and affectionate spoof, cleverly drawing from their deep knowledge of each of these Broadway giants.  In each case, they stylishly caricature the musical spirit while including countless knowing references to the bodies of work of each target of homage.

 

Here’s an example – the first mini-musical is “Corn” in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein (think Oklahoma!).  Big Willy (Matthew A. Anderson) enters singing about his love for beautiful corn with a loopy rural optimism.  Then comes his love ballad (“I Don’t Love You”) sung with June (Janine Gulisano-Sunday).  But June will be forced to marry Jidder (Bobby Smith) if she doesn’t pay the rent.  June is advised to follow her dream in a wacky inspirational parody sung by old mother Abby (Donna Migliaccio).  Following a “run of DeMille” dream sequence, Big Willy just beats the deadline to pay the rent (thanks to daylight savings time) and marries June.

 

This opening story is wonderfully contrasted by the second mini, done in the style of Stephen Sondheim.  The neurotic and angst-ridden residents of a New York City apartment complex (“The Woods”) face the threat of being murdered and covered in paper mache by the mad landlord /artist.  The Jerry Herman parody celebrates a diva who lives by her schtick, which is wearing fabulous clothes and making grand entrances.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s section mostly borrows from Evita and The Phantom of the Opera while poking at allegations that Sir Andrew has borrowed music from classical composers (“I’ve Heard That Song Before”).  The production ends with a sexy Chicago / Cabaret blend set in a speakeasy in the style of Kander & Ebb, with jazz hands for Bob Fosse’s choreography.

 

MetroStage has assembled an impressive cast, bringing back three of the four performers from the 2007 production that won DC Audience Choice Awards for Best Musical, and Best Actress (Donna Migliaccio) and Best Actor (Bobby Smith) in a Musical. Matthew A. Anderson is a terrific addition to the ensemble, bringing an endearing goofiness to his roles as well as to his hilarious dance moves (choreographed by Nancy Scales Harry).

 

[Note:  Ms. Migliaccio will be leaving the show mid-run for the Broadway revival of Ragtime and will be replaced by Heather Mayes starting Sept. 17th.]

 

Although this reviewer enjoyed seeing the original production twice, this revival manages to be even more entertaining.  The performers seem even more lively and self-assured , pitching those snappy lyrics, and executing their comic turns to the audience eagerly waiting for the next laugh.

 

Director Larry Kaye once again keeps the production sparkling, with vivid caricatures and seamless scene changes.  Musical director Doug Lawler, a quadruple threat from Baltimore, flawlessly handles the various musical styles from the piano onstage, introduces the scene changes, and finally picks up a top hat to show us he’s a song and dance man, too.

 

It is difficult to explain just how funny The Musical of Musical (The Musical!) is without spoiling its almost nonstop jokes.  MetroStage’s charming production is a loving homage not only to the specific composers, but to the broader world of musical theatre.  If you have ever enjoyed a musical, don’t miss The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!). You’ll wish it would never end.




 

The Musical of Musicals


To kick off its 25th-anniversary season, MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, has brought back the riotous production of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! that kept Washington area audiences in stitches during the spring of 2007. If anything, this remounting is better than the original, with director Larry Kaye and the three returning cast members finding new, even wilder bits of business and the happy additions of cast member Matthew A. Anderson and pianist/musical director Doug Lawler.

The show is a loving parody of the Broadway musical form, specifically the work of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. Authors Eric Rockwell (book and music) and Joanne Bogart (book and lyrics) achieve this goal by creating five mini-musicals around the old melodrama plot about the wicked landlord, the innocent young woman who can't pay her rent, and the stalwart hero who comes to her aid, along with a wise older woman who serves as the heroine's confidant. Some of the gags will only make sense to musical theater fanatics, but enough are familiar to all audiences to make the show a roaring success.

Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, who both received Helen Hayes Award nominations for the original production, once again appear as the villain and the heroine's friend. They add to their zany portrayals with exaggerated facial expressions (Too much? Not for this show), sly looks and double-takes aimed at the audience, and constant surprises including indescribable sight gags. (Migliaccio is leaving the production in two weeks to play Emma Goldman in the Broadway cast of Ragtime. She will be succeeded at MetroStage by Heather Mayes.)

The other returning cast member is Janine Gulisano-Sunday, the heroine, who gets to be rapturous, angst-ridden, whining, self-absorbed, and desperate in the space of less than two hours. Anderson fits right into the general sense of lunacy, pounding home the punch lines and swaggering in an increasingly silly set of costumes (designed by Erin Nugent).

Here's a sample of what's on display. "Corn!", the Rodgers and Hammerstein takeoff, offers a "run-of-[Agnes] De Mille" dream ballet and a heroic soliloquy; the Sondheim-esque "A Little Complex" incorporates not only relentless wordplay, but also the harsh footlights and shrieking factory whistle of Sweeney Todd; "Dear Abby" brings the older woman into the foreground in the tradition of Dolly Levi and Mame; "Aspects of Junita" tweaks Lloyd Webber's use of "wretched recitative" and repeated melodies, as well as a two-dimensional chandelier that falls faster than the one in The Phantom of the Opera; and "Speakeasy," set in a Chicago cabaret during Prohibition, borrows from Bob Fosse's trademark moves as well as Kander and Ebb's cynical songs.

Lawler, who never gets a chance to leave his piano, has a winning stage presence as well as generous musical talent.

The designers also are in on the joke, from the clashing curtains at the edges of Allison Campbell's set to Terry Smith's lights in unexpected places. Nugent's costumes add measurably to the impact of the performances, notably Migliaccio's literal show-stopper for the end of the first act.

MetroStage
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!
August 27th - October 18th
Music by Eric Rockwell
Lyrics by Joanne Bogart
Book by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart
Cast: Matthew A. Anderson, Donna Migliaccio, Janine Gulisano-Sunday, Bobby Smith; understudy, Heather Mayes
Directed by Larry Kaye
Choreography by Nancy Scales Harry
Musical direction by Doug Lawler
1201 N. Royal St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Ticket Information: 703-548-9044 or
www.metrostage.org


Photo: Colin Hovde