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Marvel of Marvels!
For Lovers of the Genre, Zany 'Musical of Musicals' Is a Hoot

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 21, 2007; C08

At one point in the blissfully funny "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" at MetroStage, performer Donna Migliaccio makes an entrance in a yellow-and-purple kimono that's trimmed with illumined light bulbs.

The moment feeds into an extended joke -- ridiculing the kind of elaborate costuming you might see in a production of, say, "Mame" -- but it's emblematic of the show as a whole. Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's brilliant parody of musical theater dazzled New York a few years ago, and no wonder: It teems with delectably insider-y references to the works of show-tune bigwigs, and it gets in some snarky digs at producers and audiences, too.

Artfully directed for MetroStage by Larry Kaye and featuring five terrific performers -- including the priceless Migliaccio and Bobby Smith -- the show is a beam of high-wattage comedy in a dark world.

A word of caution: "The Musical of Musicals" caters to cognoscenti of the genre; audiences who think "A Little Night Music" is what you get when you take an Ambien might find the humor going over their heads.

Rockwell and Bogart borrow an old-chestnut melodrama plot -- involving a villainous landlord and a heroine who can't pay the rent -- and tell it five times, sending up the styles of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The conceit allows room for sweeping satire of the artists' quirks: In "A Little Complex," the ersatz Sondheim sequence, all this production's performers don glasses -- a nod at the composer-lyricist's reputation for attracting intellectuals.

Specific allusions also abound. The clambake number from "Carousel"; the bowler hats favored by director/choreographer Bob Fosse; the sinister, churning notes you hear in the instrumental accompaniment to "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd"; the subterranean fog scenes and repetitive leitmotifs in "The Phantom of the Opera" -- these and innumerable other details turn up for nudge-nudge recognition.

The material allows the performers to let fly with the kind of exuberant mockery that's only possible when you're skewering a world you belong to.

Migliaccio in particular appears to be having a blast, whether she's impersonating a vengeful diva (as in the Lloyd Webber parody, titled "Aspects of Junita"); is using a martini glass as a trumpet (in "Dear Abby," the Herman tribute); or is belting out an overblown, idealistic ballad (as in "Corn," the wicked riff on Rodgers and Hammerstein).

Smith is constantly hilarious, especially as the slow-witted farmhand Jidder of "Corn" -- even the way the performer curls his lip adds to the humor here -- and as a Sondheim-worthy psycho.

Janine Gulisano-Sunday chips in with wry, pithy portraits of various wacky personalities, including Junita (an Evita clone) and June (the wide-eyed heroine of "Corn"). Russell Sunday fills in nicely as a dopily optimistic cowboy (think of Curly from "Oklahoma!") and other characters. Not to be left out is Dan Kazemi, the show's music director and onstage pianist, who displays a sharp sense of comic timing when he's called on to act or sing.

The production's designers also burnish the humor. Erin Nugent's costume scheme -- idiosyncratic pieces of clothing, donned over outfits of basic black -- allow for the aforementioned luminous kimono. Lighting designer Terry Smith's achievements include wonderfully macabre illumination evoking "Sweeney Todd," and Allison Campbell's set, depicting a backstage area with costumes on hooks, provides scope for all the zaniness.

And Nancy Harry contributes some clever tongue-in-cheek choreography, including a caricature of Agnes de Mille's dream ballet for "Oklahoma!"

Musical theater fans will want to come to this kind of entertainment, even if they have to hitch a ride on a surrey with the fringe on top.