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Here’s a Jolly Look at, Well, Musicals

By Leon Graham, Lakeville Journal


The title tells it all: "The musical of Musicals (The Musical!)" is a fitfully funny, often charming parody of five musical theater styles. It is also a vehicle for over-the-top performances from a cast of four and a narrator-cum pianist. Currently playing at Theatreworks in New Milford, where the pianist/director/musical director/choreographer/set designer (whew!) is the talented veteran Bradford Blake, the show is diverting enough for a drive to New Milford.

"Musical," written by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, premièred in 2003 at the York Theatre, that valuable New York City company dedicated to staging new musicals in both full productions and concerts. Full of fast references, amusing situations and plays on words, the show teases out the often sentimental folksiness of Rogers and Hammerstein, the angst-laden world of Stephen Sondheim, the fey world of Jerry Herman. Andrew Lloyd Webber's excesses are in full voice, while Kander and Ebb's dark musicals "Cabaret" and "Chicago" give the show a slightly weightier finish.

The conceit that runs through all five segments concerns a young woman who can't pay her rent (shades of silent films). She is protected from her avaricious landlord by her leading man and offered advice by a female friend.Handsome Jonathan Jacobson is always the landlord, open-faced Tom Denihan, the hero. Jessica Smith, with the best voice in the show, is the renter; and Priscilla Squiers the friend. They work well as an ensemble.

Along the way are delicious moments: "Oklahoma" is now Kansas, and the opening number is a paean to corn. The expected inspirational song, à la "You'll Never Walk Alone," is here "Dream Until You Die." Dreadful puns, "run of De Mille" for one, abound. And Big Willy, the Curly/Billy Bigelow character, sings a soliloquy to his unborn son with the line, "playing with my own little Willy." (Maybe you have to be English.)

In the sondheim segment, we hear "que sera, que Seurat," and the famous "don't bother they're here" from "Send in the Clowns" is sung by a Sweeney Todd avatar expecting his victims. The phantom in the Lloyd Webber pastiche is actually a cat in a cape, and Norma Desmond from "Sunset Boulevard" is the epitome of self-involved melodrama. The phantom's boat is a costume box on wheels, his pole a rehearsal light.

If all of this sounds like a collection of inside jokes and self-references, it is. And while the more you know about the composers and their shows, the more you chuckle or outright laugh, the show stands on its own as a pleasant stage bauble. Not really a jewel, but a sparkly rhinestone that brightens
the cold Connecticut night. (and by the way, Theatreworks has really comfortable seats, good coffee and delicious cookies.)

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