SALT LAKE CITY — Every year The Grand Theatre mounts a “Backstage Production,” and this year they have chosen The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!). Because I have seen many musicals in my life, I thought I was ready for this show. Alas! I was not prepared. Before seeing this show, you will want to be familiar with niche musicals like Flower Drum Song, Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage aux Folles, Dear World, Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Liza with a Z. But the show still has has much to offer even the casual fan of musicals.
The plot of The Musical of Musicals (The Musicals!) is the well-known shtick:
- Damsel in distress: I can’t pay the rent!
- Evil Landlord: “You MUST pay the rent!”
- Enter Beau: “I’ll pay the rent.”
The story is repeated in a different musical theatre style five times, but each repeat was funnier than the last. Each of the five parts of The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) replays this story, giving the characters similar names, so the story is easy to follow. I enjoyed seeing familiar styles as they went from artist to artist, and I especially enjoyed the Sondheim section. My husband liked the Andrew Lloyd Webber portion best, as it contained most of what he was familiar with like The Phantom of the Opera and Cats.
As the show began with the song “Beautiful Corn,”a parody in the style of Oklahoma!‘s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” I laughed as the show pointed out the ridiculousness of source material. As time went on, I enjoyed it more, meeting new characters like Jidder (played by Jake Trumbo), who had the greatest facial expression of a scowl mixed with confusion about what he was supposed to say. (His line to the audience about having to go now because he needed to look at pictures of dirty women was hilarious.) I also enjoyed Aunt Abby (played by Britty Marie) as she impersonated Barbara Streisand in Hello, Dolly! so accurately. Marie’s mannerisms of looking at the others testily and milking the applause were so perfect. Nick Morris, in the role of Jutter, was probably my favorite actor, and his speakeasy character with his makeup done so perfectly “Betty Boop” made me laugh so hard. He had some great moments that showcased Christian’s choreography, like when he is dancing with the chairs and perched on one, pursing his lips.
The fantastic direction and choreography was by Jim Christian. I loved how the characters used levels with the adjustable set (designed by Keven Myhre), and the dancing was enjoyably entertaining. It looked like a lot of work for one person to engineer all the movement in this production, and the outcome is impressive. I especially loved how well the dance moves fit in with the wittiest phrases in song, like “You’ll all get addicted to drugs!” during the last section. It was also fun to come into the theater and sit right on the stage to watch this more intimate performance. Throughout the show there is a narrator, which Christian decided to switch up for each section so many of the cast members played the part. I loved some of the lines that the narrator would throw out, like during the Andrew Lloyd Webber section, “The audience applauds the scene change,” and “The audience applauds out of habit.” Christian helped his actors maximize the humor in these little moments.
Myhre’s set was simple, an interesting choice, given the flamboyant name for this show, and the reputation musicals have for extravagance. But the set worked, especially its lovely backdrop of long strands of silver tinsel that made Jerry Herman section fit so well. And the simplicity helped me focus on the incredibly witty dialogue in Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell‘s script and score and helped me catch all the allusions to different musicals. I also appreciated how each time they started a new section the name of it would appear on the back drop for the audience to follow along. Additionally, Lindsea Garside did a fine job with wigs and makeup, especially on Morris’s face in the last section.
The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) is a jewel and—like most parodies—one that is best seen after familiarity with the target of the mumor. But don’t let that hold you back because it is still hilarious without knowing knowing the topic of every reference. I know I missed over half of the jokes, partly because I’d only seen two-thirds of the shows alluded to. I would love to see this one again.