If you know your Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman and Kander and Ebb backward and forward, don’t even think about missing the sharp send-up of each and every one of them that has just opened at Alexandria’s MetroStage.
The title itself signals the way the creators of this four-character, five-target spoof approach their subject. They call it "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!"
The concept is simplicity itself: A cast with exceptionally strong musical theater voices works through one simple plot five different times, each in the style of a different composer/lyricist. The plot is the old standby of melodrama — the innocent young girl who can’t pay the rent and the young man who comes to her rescue when the evil landlord threatens to take advantage of her misfortune.
For Rodgers and Hammerstein, the plot is rendered "on fields of golden corn stretched out to the horizon . . . it’s Kansas in August." A cowboy pretends not to be in love with pretty June who sings "I Couldn’t Keer Less About You" until the landlord, Jidder, demands a rent she can’t pay.
NO PUN SEEMS too much of a stretch, so long as it includes a simultaneous reference to at least two different songs; or, better yet, two different shows. "Mother Abby" comes to the rescue with the sung advice "There’s a rainbow o’er the mountain / and that rainbow is your dream / you’ll find it when you’ve faced the storm / and forded every stream."
A Stephen Sondheim send-up, set in an apartment complex called 'The Woods,’ gets the title "A Little Complex," while the Jerry Herman style star-vehicle (a la "Mame") is "Dear Abby."
They take on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sung-through musicals ("We Never Talk Anymore" they sing) with the often-repeated melodies ("I’ve Heard That Song Before") that some say sound like arias from old operas (one lyric goes "it might sound a teeny / like something by Puccini. But no, it’s all brand new").
Kander and Ebb’s "Cabaret" ends up as "Speakeasy."
In New York the show was a hit Off-Broadway, being brought back for a return engagement at the York Theater. The cast there was very good and even included the composer and the lyricist who created the superb send-ups of the styles of Broadway’s biggest successes. Here at MetroStage, however, the cast is better.
Donna Migliaccio, who just this month received her second Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for her work at Signature Theatre, has great fun with the role of the advice-giving woman known in the different musicals as Mother Abby, Auntie Abby, Fraulein Abby, just Abby and Abigail Von Schtarr.
Janine Gulisano-Sunday is as bright and energetic as could be asked of an Ingénue who has to face the threats of five different evil landlords.
Bobby Smith goes from the slightly dim-witted Jitter of the opening "Corn!" to the insane killer/artist of the Sondheim spoof ("I’ll make them pay in a crafty way. I’ll kill them and coat them with papier mäché. I know they say I’m no Monet. Que sera, Que Serurat. Oh, What the hey!") Then he acts as the host of a Speakeasy in the style of the emcee of a cabaret ("The world can
go to blazes / who cares? It doesn’t faze us. / We’ve got Booze /And songs that use a lot of foreign phrases!").
Russell Sunday seems a bit out of place in the young hero role, although his voice is fully up to the part. He moves sluggishly through the obligatory dream ballet of the Rodgers and Hammerstein parody and "Show Tune," the satire of every big Jerry Herman number that includes the lyric, "There’s no reason for the rhymin’, cause we’re only markin’ time until the star gets back on stage."
While the show was originally written for a cast of four with one cast member playing the piano. At MetroStage they added a pianist who also acts as narrator and even gets to join in a big final number. It is Dan Kazemi, and his cheerful persona helps the entire show.
The show might have been better had it been trimmed a bit. Four spoofs might well be better than five. But the weakest of the bunch, the Jerry Herman burlesque, is strong enough to garner many, many laughs; had they cut it, you wouldn’t get a chance to see Migliaccio bent over backwards onto the top of a piano while she belts out, "Who cares if you’re over the hill now as long as you’re over the top?"
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.