“The Musical of Musicals (the Musical!)” is a delightful spoof on Broadway musicals. Don’t let the way-too-clever title of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s new offering put you off. It is a valentine without being saccharine and a tribute without being slavish — and great fun.
Writers Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart took a tried-and-true plotline from old-fashioned melodrama — a young innocent who cannot pay the rent — and plunked it into five immediately recognizable Broadway composers’ styles.
The protagonists are always the same. There is June (Andrea Hilbrant), the appealing young ingenue who cannot pay her rent. There is Billy (Tony Carter), her handsome but slightly dim boyfriend. There is Jitter (Philip David Black), the dastardly, threatening villain. And there is Abby (Laura Derocher), an inspiring older woman dispensing sage advice.
So, how would Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber or Kander & Ebb fashion a book and lyrics to handle the story?
Needless to say, you can’t keep a good plotline down. With each version, the characters’ worldliness — or lack of it — changes as Broadway fashions dictate.
The OCT production of “The Musical of Musicals (the Musical!)” has four superb performers, with trained voices and great comic timing, to make all the character shifts work seamlessly. Add Artistic Director Valerie Rachelle’s deft direction and delightful classic choreography, and you get an evening of five clever musical parodies that are entertaining even if you aren’t familiar with all the works being spoofed.
To evoke the composers’ distinct styles, “The Musical of Musicals (the Musical!)” gives us an opening few bars of music within each song in each skit that sound thoroughly familiar but are not so close to the original as to violate copyright.
So, we have “Corn” in the style of Rodgers & Hammerstein. It’s basically “Oklahoma” with references in music and lyrics to “Carousel,” “South Pacific” and “The King and I.” There is even a nod to “Sound of Music’s” vocally soaring “Climb Every Mountain” — except here the advice is to “Follow your dream … until you are dead.”
The tribute to Stephen Sondheim, “A Little Complex,” is a spoof on the dissonant music and abstrusely literate lyrics of “Sweeney Todd” with references to “Company,” “Follies,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods.” Here the villain is an artist driven mad because his painting masterwork has been disposed of as trash. (“I am not a loon — truly no one is a loon.”)
“Dear Abby” is Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly,” “Mame” and “La Cage aux Folles” wrapped up into one lavish paean to aging divas, endless costume changes, glamorous drag queens and lots of feather fans.
We know we are in Andrew Lloyd Webber territory when “Aspects of Junita” opens Act II with a candelabra placed prominently on the onstage piano. Lloyd Webber’s work is so over the top on its own that parody almost slips by unnoticed. It is hard to include references to “Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Sunset Boulevard” and even “Cats” in a 15-minute sketch — unless, of course, you are working with material that all tends to sound alike in the original versions.
“Speakeasy,” a takeoff on both “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” is a nod to the unforgettable choreography of Bob Fosse, as well as to the music and lyrics of Kander & Ebb. Those two shows were memorable as much for images of sexy bodies languishing over chairs and dancers’ outthrust bottoms as they were for stylishly decadent lyrics.
By the time cast members brings out top hats, canes and high-stepping moves for their grand finale and lets us know they’re “Done” (“So why are you still sitting there?”), I guarantee you won’t be able to hear those “original cast albums” again without breaking into a rueful grin.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.