How would you like to relive every single musical ever written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb … all in under two hours and performed by a cast, not of thousands or hundreds (or even dozens) but a mere four terrifically talented triple-threats?
If your answer is yes, then has Chromolume Theatre Company got a show for you, the 2003 off-Broadway hit The Musical Of Musicals (The Musical!), as brilliant a musical theater parody as has ever been written—bar none.
Co-creators Eric Rockwell & Joanne Bogart’s concept is inspired: Write five mini-musicals linked by a single, simple plot (“I can’t pay the rent”), each one in the style of a Broadway icon (or iconic team) and featuring the same cast of characters, give or take a bit of tweaking here and there.
There’s heroine June (Jean Altadel), whose rent payment is due; hero Billy (Jason Peter Kennedy), who’d help her if only he could; villain Jitter (Eduardo Enrikez), who’s more than eager to foreclose: and matron Abby (Christina Morell), there to provide pearls of wisdom when needed.
A lesser creative team might have been content to write new lyrics to old songs. Rockwell and Bogart aim considerably higher, somehow managing to convince us we’re listening to honest-to-goodness R&H or Sondheim or Herman when in fact we’re hearing all new melodies give or take a bar or two. Even better, there’s not a wasted word, note, or moment, every single one of them calling to mind one or more of the dozens of musicals The Musical Of Musicals (The Musical!) takes as its inspiration.
“Corn” (the R&H pastiche) takes place (where and when else but) in “Kansas in August,” casting June as a combination Laurey/Julie Jordan and Billy as “Big Willy,” a blend of Curly and Billy Bigelow, with villain Jitter recalling both Jud Fry and Jigger Craigin, and Abby (aka “Mother Abby”) a mix of Aunt Eller, Nettie Fowler, and (you guessed it) Mother Abbess. “Oh, What Beautiful Corn,” “I Couldn’t Keer Less About You,” and “I Don’t Love You” bring back memories of amorous R&H duos refusing to acknowledge their love for each other. “Follow Your Dream” scrambles “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Bali Hai,” and “Climb Every Mountain,” with a hilarious punch line I won’t spoil by revealing it here. Billy has his very own “Sowillyquey,” there’s the requisite Agnes de Mille-esque “Dream Ballet,” and a rousing finale that recalls “Oklahoma!” with the entire cast spelling out “Daylight Savings Time” just as the Oklahomans did the name of their state.
Next up is “A Little Complex,” not merely an apt description of just about any Sondheim melody but also the Company-esque apartment complex (appropriately called “The Woods”) where landlord/painter Jitter (a combination Sweeney Todd/George Seurat) plots to murder his neighbors one by one, including neurotic Jeune (Sweeney’s bird-obsessed Johanna mixed with Company’s maritally indecisive Amy), confirmed bachelor Billy (shades of Company’s Bobby-Robby-Bobby Baby-Robert Darling), and alcoholic Abby (imagine Joanne from Company belting out not “Everybody rise! rise! rise!” but “We’re all gonna die! die! die!” ). And how about The Woods’ Sweeney Todd screech of a doorbell!
“Dear Abby” is Hello, Dolly! mixed with Mame—with a bit of La Cage Aux Folles thrown in for good measure. Like Dolly Levi, Abby is an expert advice giver. Like Mame Dennis, she’s a glamorous New Yorker with a nephew, only this time her William is well on his way to forty and still in knickers. Juney-Fae is a combo Widow Malloy and Minnie Fay and Mr. Jitter puts “a little more mascara on” as a begowned drag queen à la Albin. Since this is Jerry Herman being parodied, there’s a big, brassy, oh-so hummable “Show Tune” and a “Did I Put Out Enough?” sure to tickle fans of Mame’s “If He Walked Into My Life.”
Post intermission brings “Aspects Of Junita,” with “Sir Phantom” Jitter obsessively in love with an Eva Peron-like Junita, whom a Norma Desmond-inspired Abigail von Starr urges to sing “Over The Top” in true Sarah Brightman fashion. Meanwhile Junita’s boyfriend Bill bemoans their inability to just talk (this being a “sung-through” Sir ALW musical after all). Sir Andrew’s alleged penchant for stealing from Puccini gets razzed in “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and what would a Lloyd Webber spoof be without roller-skates (or a reasonable facsimile) or a murderous chandelier?
Finally, Chicago meets Cabaret as our lipstick-sporting Emcee Jitter welcomes us to TMOM (TM!)’s final mini-musical “Speakeasy” with a multilingual “Hola, Aloha, Hello” (and a bit of Pig Latin thrown in for good measure). Billy is now an imprisoned (think Kiss Of The Spider Woman) Villy and sings the self-descriptive “Color Me Gay,” bringing back memories of Kander & Ebb’s early hit “My Coloring Book.” Meanwhile, as La Minnelli did back in her TV special “Liza With A ‘Z’,” Juny bemoans people’s inability to get her name right in “Juny With A ‘J’.” Add to that a hilarious takeoff on “Cell Block Tango” too and you’ve got a “Speakeasy” to shout loud about.
Finally, to close the evening off, the entire cast don “A Chorus Line” top hats to exhort the audience to exit the theater because, as the song title indicates, these four multitalented stars are “Done.”
Musical theater buff will relish how even the most seemingly throw-away lines recall one Broadway musical smash or another. When “Corn”’s Big Willy tells June he’s been wandering around her corn field, she responds with “What’s the use of wanderin’?). “Dear Abby”’s Mr. Jitter searches for hors-d’oeuvres by asking “Where’s that boy with the bagel?” “Speakeasy”’s Villy advises Juny to go back to the Speakeasy because “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”
All of the above makes for one of off-Broadway’s cleverest and most delightful bonbons, and never more so than on the barebones blackbox Attic Theatre stage where director Kristin Towers-Rowles demonstrates supreme imagination (and an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theater) in bringing Rockwell & Bogart’s book, music, and lyrics to sparkling, highly visual life, aided and abetted by choreographer Samantha Whidby, who knows her Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, and Michael Bennett by heart.
Each and every cast member shines in multiple roles. Altadel simply couldn’t be more appealing as June, whether in quintessential Rodgers & Hammerstein mode (she won a Scenie for Oklahoma!’s Laurey a few years back, after all) or discovering new sides to her girl-next-door persona as a pizzazzy Junita to give Patti LuPone a run for her money. Though perhaps cast a bit too much against type, Kennedy does terrifically too, from cowman Big Willy to eternal juvenile William to a drag-sporting Villy. Enrikez has never been better, or seen to better advantage, than in a series of roles that give Miss Saigon’s Chris the chance to play villain—and look fabulous in lipstick, mascara, and a dress.
Finally, sensational New York-to-L.A. transplant Morrell steals every scene she’s in, whether as a homespun Mother Abby or a hammered Abby or a divalicious Abigail, her renditions of “Follow Your Dream,” “We’re All Gonna Die,” and “Over The Top” proving bona fide showstoppers and showcases for some amazing pipes.
Musical director Richard Berent not only provides expert keyboard accompaniment throughout, he links each mini-musical with his own hilarious, ingenious takeoffs on the composers The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) spoofs.
The same bare, black stage that gave Chromolume’s last production an unfinished workshop look works perfectly for The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), which is all about imagination taking the place of pricey scenery. Costume designer Kara McLeod ingeniously modifies the cast’s basic black to create one instantly recognizable character after another. Lauren Wemischner lights with panache. James Esposito does double duty as both scenic and sound designer, Lauren J. Peters is stage manager, and Kelsea Maynard is assistant stage manager.
Though produced on a considerably smaller budget than its Los Angeles Premiere at the Colony back in 2006, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)’s return to L.A. stints not a bit on entertainment value. In this month of Thanksgiving, it provides musical theater lovers ample reason to give thanks.
Note: Understudies Jason Chacon, Macleish Day, Kimberly Hessler, and Kelly Meyersfield will appear at selected performances.
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic. 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.
November 8, 2013
Photos: James Esposito