The Musical of Musicals, The Musical, Book by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, lyrics by Joanne Bogart, Music by Eric Rockwell. Directed by Bert Bernardi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Did I put out enough?"
Fernandes, Moser, Rozak and Morwitz; photo provided by the theater
Itís a standard plot, traditional in show business: a beautiful young girl canít pay the rent, or the mortgage, and the wily old landlord, usually ugly, always mean, will marry the girl instead. In the knick of time the handsome, if somewhat diffident, hero comes to save the day, pay the geezer off and marry the girl himself. As old as time, that story. Used in some form by just about everyone in the modern theater: from the melodramas of old, with oleo song stylings between the scenes, to Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Musical of Musicals, The Musical takes R&H to a new place and then does them one, no two, no three, no four times better using the same basic story concept in a total of five musical theater styles: Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kander and Ebb and, of course, Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Iím not giving away much here, because the laughs are so fast and furious it is hard, in the dark, to write much down with clarity. The first half of this revuesical is devoted to three of the stageís finest musical authors and the second act to two more, with a third thrown in for good measure at the end. The plot never varies, but the stories do. The characters always have the basic same names and the pianist on stage gives stage directions so you never get lost.
Dressed in basic black and dragging chairs into place, this showís foursome is marvelously directed by Bert Bernardi who knows how to parody the work he has been doing for years. Guided by some of the funniest lyrics and silliest dialogue ever heard on the Theater Barn stage, Bernardi keeps this show moving and his actors keep grimacing, grinning and glowing with graceful glee as they play every cliche for its full value, every witticism for its impact and every style the memory can muster for more than mere merriment.
In "Corn," the Rodgers and Hammerstein parody June, played by Megan Rozak, is indeed busting out all over. She continues to do so throughout the evening ultimately manhandling herself in the Kander and Ebb shot at this plot, entitled "Speakeasy," set in a lusty cabaret in Chicago. Rozak has a beautiful and powerful singing voice, a distinctive delivery of very bad lines, and a face that never stops acting, reacting and redacting; in fact she seems to be revising her roles as she plays them...in perfect Broadway fashion.
Daniel Moser as Willie (who, in soliloquy contemplates playing with his little Willie - youíll get it when you hear it) is tall, funny with a rubbery face and a wonderful voice, and handsomely handy as a hero. In the Webber parody, "Aspects of Junita" he makes all other Webber heroes seem false and underplayed, especially in "Phantom of the Opera." An excellent dancer, he and Rozak truly shine in "Corn"ís dream ballet.
Jerielle Morwitz as Abby plays every form of Abby from Mother Abby (think "Sound of Musicí) in "Corn" to the star of that perennial Jerry Herman revival "Dear Abby!" in which she is the slightly over-the-hill, non-singing, non-dancing musical star of a show about how good she really is at being the star. In "A Little Complex," the Stephen Sondheim version of the tale, she delivers a "Ladies Who Lunch" send-up of Elaine Stritch to "Die!" for.
Rounding out the quartet, in all the villain roles - all named Jitter - is James Anthony Fernandes. He uses his tenor qualities well in the bad-guy roles, from a quasi-Sweeney Todd in the Sondheim, to the phantom character in "Aspects of Junita," (singing the praises of his character, his creator Webber and his undying lack of alliance to the music of Puccini) to the very gay M.C. in "Speakeasy." It is hard to know in which of these roles he might be the funniest, but I think it will be a toss-up based on the makeup of the audience from show to show.
The ninety minute show rolls by all too quickly in this lovely mid-summer hit for the Barn. Every aspect of the production has its own values and they all work together to make this first musical entry of their season a guaranteed best-seller for the company. The one variable will be that audience. On opening night it seemed as though the rear of the theater was getting every joke, every "take" on the classics being spoofed while the front half of the theater sat in stony, tight-lipped silence. In truth, the more you know about the actual works by these men of the musicals the funnier you will find the parody writing here. For example: in the Rodgers and Hammerstein piece the ballet is described by one of the foursome as being "run of DeMille." If you donít get that, you wonít get much of the humor. And when Adam Jones, the wonderful pianist and musical director, gets directly involved in the action, you hopefully will find you just have to laugh and no mistake about it.
I cannot say this show is for everyone. You have to like the musical theater to get what these people are doing, saying and creating internally. But if you get it youíll want to get it again and again. The most outrageous jokes, here, are worth saying and even when Abby tells one of my old jokes in "Speakeasy" it has its payoff for someone like me who knows whatís coming. That moment actually got an almost full theater guffaw.
So guffaw the season is over, get off yaw seats and make a reservation for this show. You wonít have much more fun anywhere this summer, not even at the nude beach - if you can find it.
The Musical of Musicals, The Musical plays at the Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY through August 3. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-794-8989.