If you’re fried and overwhelmed by the fast approaching holidays, I have the perfect Rx: Moonbox Productions’ THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (playing at the BCA through Dec. 20th) is non-stop hilarity. If you adore the musicals of Kander & Ebb, Sondheim, Rogers & Hammerstein and Jerry Herman, you mustn’t miss Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s mash-up, send-up tribute to the greats. (You know in your heart that they’re ripe for parody.)
The Bogart/Rockwell musical is not “Forbidden Broadway.” It’s actually a whole musical with new, close-to-the bone, mind you, lyrics almost like the originals but naughtier. You’ll recognize the music, too, although it seems to morph into similar tunes from another show by the same composer, that is, when it’s not tempted to run rogue and sound like Rachmaninoff. In fact pianist/music director Dan Rodriguez makes the keyboard sound like a whole orchestra.
Picture a fella who looks for all the world like Curly strolling on stage singing “Oh, what beautiful corn.” The woman shucking those ears seems to be Aunt Eller but isn’t. The tune is Rogers’ but here “the cattle plié in a dreamy ballet…while a chipmunk is readin’ the Bible.” It’s sort of OKLAHOMA but now Laurie will do anything to pay the rent and Aunt Eller seems to have become an Abbess, not to mention the shenanigans for poor Agnes DeMille. And a real fine clambake has yielded oodles of clam dip which when left in the sun too long—Well, you can guess what happens next.
When the troupe turns to Sondheim, the scary Judd of OKLAHOMA (renamed “Jitter”) has become Sweeney Todd and his daughter Johanna needs to pay the rent. In case you haven’t guessed, rent (not the musical RENT) is the through-line. In one of the best parodies (of both character and song) Johanna (renamed “Jeune”) is bonkers from the get-go, delivering a wide-eyed, florid “I Have Little Birds.”
If you don’t know the original lyrics, you may be temporarily puzzled but the madness on stage will get you through. (At least that’s the consensus of the women from the Ladies Room line.) You’ll be wowed by the versatility of the performers, who can match anything thrown at them in say, COMPANY. Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” is even, dare I say, funnier in parody because it’s a joke sitting on top of a joke.
Director/choreographer Rachel Bertone and music director Rodriguez have a field day finding bits to enhance the comedy. At one point the performers add instruments to the mix while they’re making magic. Bertone’s choreography looks an awful lot like the real thing and happily, she has dancers who can pull off OKLAHOMA’s dream ballet and Bob Fosse’s bumps and grinds for the mutant CHICAGO/CABARET show. And the dancers deliver vocally, too, in all the diverse song stylings that Rockwell cooks up.
The creators get lots of laughs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s expense, pointing out his penchant for “borrowing” tunes from Puccini, Meyerbeer, Berlioz et al, not to mention his rococo plots (or non-plots in CATS). You may have already thought that Jerry Herman’s leading ladies seem awfully similar. Now you can plainly see that’s because they are! Mame is Dolly is even Aubin in the Moonbox triumph. The faux Fosse is my favorite, with its hysterical riff on the “Jailhouse Tango.”
What a cast to pull this off! Katie Clark, whose crazy, baby voice rips the artifice right out of SWEENEY TODD…to Meredith Stypinski, whose Witch/Abbess brings Sondheim’s fairy tale message to its knees with “We’re All Gonna Die.” Phil Tayler is such a strong leading man that he doesn’t often get the chance to be funny (coming right out of SWEENEY TODD @ Lyric Stage) and is he ever! Kudos, too, to the high kicking chorus and to Peter Mill who wows the audience with his remarkable dexterity, from hero to jester, from zero to sixty in five seconds like the new Mustang.