Theater Review: "The Musical of Musicals"
Theatreworks New Milford, under the guidance of local favorite Bradford Blake, is staging a musical pastiche that affords a kind of informal history of musical theater by spoofing five of the most important icons of the twentieth century, from Rodgers and Hammerstein, through Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, to Kander and Ebb. Each segment is a variation on the same old hackneyed plot- revolving a damsel in distress, an evil landlord, a wise older woman, and a manly hunk, who is expected to step in and solve the problem- "You must pay the rent" "I Can't pay the rent" "I'll pay the rent…"
The creative team of Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart who wrote the book, music and lyrics for this project achieved great success with it Off Broadway in 2004, where it ran for many hundreds of performances and was nominated for lots of awards, as well as in London, where it was performed on the West End. Clearly how much you will enjoy it depends on the depth of your familiarity with musicals: the more references you recognize- both words and music- and the sharper your awareness of individual styles, the more meaningful you will find the show.
With Director Blake at the piano and also serving as informal narrator, the very good veteran cast of four have a great time hamming it up while displaying their considerable musical talents. With a few well chosen props and distinctive costumes, Jessica Smith, Jonathan Jacobson, Priscilla Squiers and Tom Denihan put on what are basically five skits, moving from Rodgers and Hammerstein sentimentality to Sondheim neurosis to over-the-top Jerry Herman in the first act. Then in the second act they make mincemeat out of Andrew Lloyd Webber (imagine combining Phantom of the Opera with Cats, plus some Evita and a little bit of Joseph thrown in) and ending up with the best of all variation on Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, all involving that villainous landlord.
The first piece, CORN! Is a take-off on Oklahoma, with stalwart cowboy Big Willy courting June (who is busting out all over) under the watchful eye of Mother Abby, deep in the heart of Kansas. If you pay attention, though you can catch the lines from King and I (It's a puzzlement) and Carousel, but the funniest part is watching them perform the Agnes deMIlle style dream ballet…, while evil Judder lies in his lonely room looking at dirty pictures. Well, you get the idea.
As things move to more sophisticated territory, the characters become less wholesome and reliable. Abby drinks too much; Bill doesn't like girls; Jitter becomes the Phantom, and so on. By Jerry Herman's segment, Auntie Abby is over the top, Rosalind Russell style in a mix of Auntie Mame, Hello Dolly and Cage Au Folles.
As I said, my favorite part was SPEAKEASY, in which a leering, corseted Jutter was a dead ringer for the Emcee from the Kit Kat Klub, und Villy was a flirtatious toy boy. In short, the more these pieces were able to trigger your memories of the real shows, the more sense they made, and the more purpose they served. I would not recommend it to someone who is not a fan of musical theater, but if you do break into smiles when you hear snatches of famous melodies, then you will probably enjoy this totally harmless, supremely cheerful, talent filled production.