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The Musical of Musicals (A Musical)
Sound Theatre Spring 2006; revived with cast changes, King's Head Theatre Winter 2006

This import from New York is a wicked romp that will delight anyone who loves musicals and anyone who hates musicals in equal measure, since it takes the mickey out of the genre with wit and infectious glee.

With equally inventive music by Eric Rockwell, lyrics by Joanne Bogart and book by the two of them, the show presents a simple plot (Villain demands the rent, heroine can't pay, hero pays and gets the girl) as if it had been musicalised by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Lloyd Webber or Kander and Ebb.

Each 20-minute mini-musical is a dastardly and delightful parody, funny enough in their own rights that you don't have to get all the in-jokes to enjoy them, but all the more hilarious if you do.

The R&H version is set in the wide open spaces of Kansas, with a farmer singing a salute to his corn, the couple insisting in song that they don't love each other, the obligatory dream ballet and a melodramatic musical soliloquy for the hero. (As that last one suggests, we're not sticking strictly to Oklahoma here, and there are passing digs at The King and I, The Sound of Music and others.)

The same happens in the Sondheim version, where the angst-ridden New York sophisticates of Company encounter a murderous landlord out of Sweeney Todd, with jokes and musical allusions to the rest of the Sondheim oeuvre.

The Jerry Herman is all popsy music, and chorus boys dancing around a female star of a certain age; the Kander and Ebb is all wooden chairs, German accents and Fosse moves; and the Evita-meets-the-Phantom version features a song repeated over and over again and a couple complaining that they never talk anymore because they're constantly sung-through.

While the musical pastiches and lyrical parodies are spot-on, it is the passing in-jokes that are the most wicked fun. I'll leave it to you to work out which version refers to a cat of many colours, which has a staircase prominant, which mentions specific overtures, and which has the heroine having to constantly correct people's spelling and pronunciation of her name.

With Dean Austin keeping things bouncing from the piano, Ian McLarnon is the dashing hero in different styles, Geoffrey Abbott is villainous in five different modes. Joanna Ampil finds five different ways to be a ditzy heroine, and Susannah Fellows is in turn motherly, cynical, diva, grande dame and Lenyaesque.

It's only at the Sound for a month, but if there's any justice it should settle in someplace for a nice long run.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Musical of Musicals - Sound 2006