LOGAN — Mix Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, Herman, and Kander and Ebb into one epic night of musical theatre parody and the end result is a five act musical, in which Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell delightfully draw together the stereotypical characters, songs and styles that each of these composers have become infamous for. The name of this musical amalgamation? The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) Each act essentially tells the same story following a traditional format of melodrama and including stereotypical melodrama characters in each role, including a villain, hero, ingénue and matriarch.
The silly plot follows an ingenue and hero in love, but they can’t pay the rent and the landlord (i.e., villain) demands payment. The hero comes up with a ploy to get the money and avoid eviction, while the ingénue consults a matron type character for help and guidance. It was entertaining to see just which iconic characters would be satirized in each act as the featured composer’s works were showcased in approximately 20 minute segments. For example, in the Rodgers and Hammerstein segment, the Hero is named Big Willy (played by Jonathan McBride) and is a cross between Billy Bigelow from Carousel and Curly from Oklahoma!, and the matriarchal character (played by Camille Van Wagoner) is a cross between Mother Abbess from The Sound of Music, Cousin Nettie from Carousel, and Aunt Eller from Oklahoma!. In the Sondheim section, the evil landlord is Sweeney Todd (also played by McBride) who is plotting a way to kill all of his tenants. And in the Lloyd Weber section, the evil landlord (played by W. Lee Bailey) was a cross between the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera and Rum Tum Tugger from Cats. This pattern is repeated throughout and involved elements and characters from 26 different musicals from these five powerhouse composers and composer teams.
The director Jim Christian (who also served as music director and choreographer) clearly understood each composer’s style and helped the actors to bring out the comedy and satire in each of the acts. Christian also successfully provided strong contrasts between each act and character. This was deftly enhanced by the live accompaniment on the keyboard with impassioned flare and in a stereotypical melodramatic fashion by Luke Shepherd. At times I found myself watching Shepherd in many of the scenes as he provided background music to the dialogue and accented the action on stage with sound effects.
The set design by Anne Benson was simple yet functional and had an abstract element to it which provided smooth transitions between each act. The lighting design by Randy Mugleston helped to set the mood and enhanced the melodramatic style of the show. And the costumes designed by Carey Hanson aided in the storytelling by identifying the various characters being satirized by the different actors.
Each of the actors showed great range and versatility and are clearly accomplished performers that were able to successfully handle each of the characters tossed at them with high energy and excellent commitment to the madcap style. My favorite performances included Camille Van Wagoner as Mother Abbess, Dolly, and Norma Desmond. Her skillful comedic timing and commitment to her large and varied performance brought each character to life and stole many of the scenes. Her rendition of “Hello,Dolly!” was masterfully done as she delivered a perfect imitation of Carol Channing. Her shrill delivery of “Climb Every Mountain” was also hilarious. Scott McBride’s zany Sweeney Todd landlord, enhanced by his powerful voice, made a believable yet disturbing psychotic landlord. As the MC, Tyson Baker delivered with an impeccable accent enhanced by broad physical comedy and stylized movement that shined in the entertaining “Speakeasy” act. Finally, Emilie Starr’s strong voice and committed dancing was a standout in the “Cell Block Tango” along with her eccentric facial expressions that brought life to the bird-obsessed “Johanna” in the Sondheim act.
I am generally not a huge fan of spoofs and parodies, and find most them to be underdeveloped with a few gags that are repeated throughout. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case in this show. The creativity in the writing, combined with excellent direction, a talented cast and a live pianist made for an entertaining and witty evening that theater aficionados will enjoy as they catch the many subtle jokes that lace the script. Though some audience members may miss some of the humor, the broad acting styles and energized performances will hold attention and provide enough entertainment on their own merits in spite of some patron’s unfamiliarity with the references, and that is the true test of a successful parody. I would recommend this “valentine to musical theatre” to those looking for an evening of laughs that are looking for something different than the normal fare. This cast delivers with high energy and fantastic performances.