Musical of Musicals - The Musical

York Theatre, NYC - July 2004

Review by John Kenrick

If you love musicals, Musical of Musicals - The Musical is that rare treat, a dose of prime caviar for the jaded theatre-lover's palate. I caught a workshop of this witty, intimate project several years ago, and can happily report that it has more than fulfilled its promise.

The premise is daringly simple -- take the basic plot of a 1990s hit ( i.e. - "How am I going to pay the rent?") and a basic quartet of characters -- leading man Bill, leading ingénue June, a mother or aunt named Abby and a conniving landlord named Jidder. With a few name changes and some inventive twists, Musical of Musicals proceeds to show us how several master songwriters might have handled the subject. We get Rodgers & Hammerstein's heartfelt Corn, Stephen Sondheim's introspective A Little Complex, Jerry Herman's sentimental Dear Abby, Andrew Lloyd Webber's set-heavy Aspects of Junita, and Kander and Ebb's edgy Speakeasy.

The spoofery is non-stop, the laughs often uproarious. In Speakeasy, when the piano strikes up a trademark Kander & Ebb vamp as a jaded "Fraulein Abby" strikes a cynical pose, the audience is laughing itself silly before she sings a word -- and everyone from Liza Minnelli to the ghost of Lotte Lenya would be laughing right along with us. As in the best of parodies, this is all done with an unmistakable air of affection towards the composers and performers being sent up. There is no mean-spiritedness here. You have to love an art form to have such wondrous fun with it.

The performances are uniformly flawless. The cast of four is amazingly talented -- the performers even take turns covering at the piano, which provides the only accompaniment in this refreshingly spare production. Craig Fols handles the leading men and Lovette George the leading women, both making the most of every opportunity for fun. Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell, the gifted lyricist and composer behind all this insanity, have ravishing fun in the character roles. (I for one look forward to finding out what this promising new duo will offer us in years to come.)

Director/choreographer Pamela Hunt keeps everything superbly paced, and her visual sense of humor is the perfect match for Bogart & Rockwell's material. James Morgan's set and John Carver Sullivan's costumes are shrewdly simple, and Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting often gives this low budget production a dose of million dollar glamour.

I literally laughed myself hoarse at Musical of Musicals -- and would gladly do so again anytime. I daresay this show would be a grand choice for any regional or summer stock company in years to come. For right now, the extended run at the York Theatre is a delicious reminder (as if any were needed) that this company is one of the true jewels in Manhattan's theatrical crown. If you don't catch Musical of Musicals, you're missing out on the best musical theatre buff's laugh fest in years.

This production closed in October 2004.

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