There’s nothing better to me than being at a show with a friend and sharing a laugh over an in-joke reference, making eye contact knowing that you both are “in the know” about what is going on. That is the experience I had over and over with my friend and an audience of strangers at Cyclodrama’s production of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! currently playing upstairs at Club Diversity. Columbus is full of musical performers who know their musicals and composing teams inside out, and this show is one that takes that knowledge and affection and mixes it up with good humor.
Written by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart (they both performed in the 2003 and 2005 off-Broadway runs), The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! is a ninety-minute, two-act play that presents the scenario of a woman needing to pay rent to a landlord in five different scenes, each with inspiration from a different composer or composing team. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are represented in “Corn,” which has many references to Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Sound of Music; “The Complex” is aptly named for Stephen Sondheim’s section with references to Into the Woods, Company, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; “Dear Abby” pokes fun at the silly eccentricities of Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s special brand of pretentious pop opera (with inspiration from Evita, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Sunset Boulevard) is represented in “Aspects of Junita”; and the dingy, Prohibition-era “Speakeasy” takes its cues from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago and Cabaret. The clever finale “Done” is a parody of “One” from A Chorus Line.
The show is presented with just a few props, costumes, and excellent keyboard accompaniment by Tony Love. This isn’t a show where you need to look any deeper than what is on the surface, and many character names are reused and altered to fit each interpretation of the same basic story. Each song is a direct riff on a song from a musical, with “If I Loved You” becoming “I Don’t Love You” and “If He Walked into My Life” inspiring “Did I Put Out Enough?” My favorite number is “I’ve Heard That Song Before” from the Andrew Lloyd Webber section, a comment on how he reuses the same melodies ad nauseam (and even “borrows” some from Puccini); what’s scary is how catchy the tune is in that parody song! Each section opens with a montage of clips from film and stage performances that help clue people in on the references they will see and hear in each scene; think of them each as four-minute refresher courses on musical theatre. Even if you are a musical neophyte, these montages will help you recognize many of the reasons why the people around you are laughing.
Each member of the cast is worthy of recognition, representing the kind of go-for-broke kind of ensemble necessary for this material to work. Alan Saunders (who is also the director) steps in whenever eye candy is required, but he has a voice and talent to offer as well; Carolyn Cutri has a thrilling voice that she isn’t afraid to punch you with as Mother Abby; Greg McGoon plays both villain and lovesick youngster with ease; Zach Arnold makes a fine scruffy Phantom clone; Alicia Brown plays Junita (think Eva “Evita” Peron) with a kind of innocence that is hilarious, even while maneuvering the chandelier that will mean her death; Sophie Kirk pouts and preens to perfection as June and Dear Abby; David Taylor’s Big Willy (yes, I know) hits notes with a volume and pitch that is surely intentionally off-putting and right in step with the mood; Kayla Scites has a delicately sweet voice as Junie Fay (think Minnie Fay in Hello, Dolly!); and Drea Blau is on hand to introduce each scene as well as join in for ensemble numbers.
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! isn’t your typical show, but it is performed with verve by a game cast willing to look and act just as silly as required. The references range from those even non-musical fans will get (who doesn’t know about the nuns in The Sound of Music or the chandelier in The Phantom of the Opera?) to some deep catalog references to Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express (the cast on roller skates) and Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. In the end, the show is a celebration of the music these fine composers have gifted us over the years, and all of the jabs are good-natured. Did I mention the cabaret-style seating at little round tables and the cheap drinks you can bring in from the bar downstairs? This is a show best enjoyed with some theatre buddies after a few drinks.
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! continues through to May 29th in Club Diversity located at 863 South High Street, and more information can be found at http://www.cyclodrama.com/