Thursday, December 18, 2014

Moonbox shines in their Musical of Musicals

Kander & Ebb get theirs in The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!

Parodying musical theatre on its own terms hardly counts as a new idea -  the Forbidden Broadway franchise ran for years in its various incarnations, and today's skits on SNL (and even South Park) regularly take knowing pot-shots at the Great White Way.

But believe it or not, Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! actually finds fresh life in a genre which itself is almost ripe for parody - and the winning version from Moonbox Productions (at the BCA through Dec. 20) has the energy and smarts to more than sell the show's big laughs (and coast through its weaker patches).

The excuse for the insider satire (this time around) is that at the last minute, the producers of a planned pastiche of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb have lost the rights to all the songs they had hoped to showcase. And of course the show must go on, so they crib together a revue (actually five mini-musicals) all "in the manner of" those marquee names - which, of course, plays as unconscious parody from its opening bars. Although to be honest, I was laughing out loud well before the curtain rose, just from reading the program - for with song titles like "Oh, What Beautiful Corn," "Did I Put Out Enough?" and "Hola, Aloha, Hello," how could the show be anything less than hilarious?

And I'm happy to report it is mostly a stitch - although given your personal attitude toward each of these composers, your mileage may differ in different sections. Me, I got a kick out of the whole thing. And I also chuckled at Rockwell and Bogart's central conceit - that the melodramatic triangle of ingĂ©nue, romantic lead, and creepy landlord powers far too much of our musical theatre (and so provides the plot of every "musical" in Musical, whether it's "in the manner of" Jerry Herman or Stephen Sondheim).

But it's Bogart's lyrics that sell the show - indeed, composer Rockwell hews so closely to the tunes he's parodying that his melodies often read as direct lifts. Which in the end is okay, actually, as it allows us to savor the precision of Bogart's satiric aim. And this lady does know her way around Broadway, and so nails again and again its stupid subtexts and cloying cliches - although she pours the most scorn on the juke-box operas of Andrew Lloyd Webber (whose oeuvre, one character quips, "can sound a teeny/like bad Puccini").

At Moonbox, you could argue that not all the performances are quite as sharp as Bogart's snark - but by curtain you'll probably be laughing too hard to argue anything, and at any rate all the performers are talented and game, and light up the stage with their energy.  (Which makes the show something of a paradox - it's actually a big-hearted satire.)

Certainly the leads are remarkably skilled. As the put-upon heroine, "June," Katie Clark proved herself an endlessly inventive (and tireless) comedienne, while  Peter Mill, as the clueless, hunky "Bill," gave clarion voice to some nearly-recognizable Rodgers & Hammerstein classics. Meanwhile the drily witty Meredith Stypinski deftly stepped into the shoes of Aunt Eller from Oklahoma, the Mother Abbess from The Sound of Music, and even Joanne from Company, but shone brightest as "Dear Abby," the Jerry Herman diva who admits she "can't dance or sing" but is somehow center stage even though "she hasn't done anything." Finally, in the villain's role, local light Phil Tayler chewed the scenery with gusto, but didn't quite come into his own until he was transformed first into a hilariously slinky "Jellicle Cat," and then into Kander & Ebb's nuttily perverse Emcee from "a Cabaret somewhere in Chicago."

I shouldn't forget, however, the beaming chorus and dance ensemble, who often carried the show: Julianne Daly, Nicholas Davis, Mathew Kossack, Caroline Lellouche, Allison Russell, and Andrew Winans seemed unfazed even when asked to roller-skate around the set in a tribute to one of Lloyd Webber's weirdest efforts (the now-forgotten Starlight Express). But perhaps they sensed that the choreography devised by director Rachel Bertone was as clever as Bogart's lyrics - so they were happy to give it their all.

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