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A review by Carmen Nasr for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

All Star Productions Presents

 

The Musical of Musicals:

The Musical!

 

 

Music by Eric Rockwell, Lyrics by Joanne Bogart

 

Directed by Lydia Milman Schmidt

 

Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre

 

16 – 26 August 2011

 

When it comes to self-parody, musical theatre is the only genre that appears to
sincerely relish lampooning itself. More a homage of affectionate teasing than genuine satire, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) is a pastiche of Broadway’s great composers aimed at the genre’s most devoted admirers. Judging from the epidemic exuberance and relentless laughter of last night’s audience, tapping your foot to a good ole’ show tune with genuine delight, while simultaneously poking fun at it, is the most gleeful of delicacies for musical theatre enthusiasts.

Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell’s outlandish parody sees the same classical melodramatic plot played out five times, each in the style of one of Broadway’s greatest composers. The opening mini-musical is in mockery and indeed tribute to showbiz goliaths Rodgers and Hammerstein, aptly titled Corn! in a rather obvious nudge to Oklahoma!. Set in the rolling cornfields of Kansas, where a “chipmunk is reading the bible”, is the ludicrously optimistic tale of simple soul June who cannot pay her rent, her evil landlord Jitter who threatens to marry her if she doesn’t pay up and her indecisive hillbilly boyfriend Big Willy. Straight out of The Sound of Music, the fourth and final character, Mother Abby, tells June in delightfully ear piercing Soprano ‘to follow your dream till you die’.

And in such vein follow the next four pieces, adapting the plot in the style of each composer with an almost uncompromising cascade of allusions, references and musical pastiche. For example A Little Complex immerses the plot in Stephen Sondheim’s trademark dark and tragic style, with landlord Jitter re-imagined in Sweeny Todd style as an unstable artist who wants to slit the throats of his neurotic tenants and ‘coat them in paper mache’. Other indulgences include an Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom landlord  and a heroine who confesses to being a ‘whiney self obsessed angel’, and a finale of a Kander and Ebb Chicago/Cabaret concoction set in a Chicago prohibition-era speakeasy, where half the people have German accents.

Director Lydia Milman Schmidt throws all the razzle and dazzle she can at the piece, with a cast who clearly give the production their all. The talented Maggie Robson stands out as Abby, playing among others, an alcoholic neurotic, an aging cocktail swigging starlet and a cynical German prostitute with what is clearly a true understanding of the various composers’ styles. Brendan Matthew’s polished choreography brings a little West End glamour to suburban Walthamstow.

The production’s weakness, however, lies in the nature of the musical itself. Riddled with what felt like a thousand and one references and inside-jokes, it is almost impossible for non Broadway musical experts to be in on even half the jokes. Although composers Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell have clearly catered very well to their target audience, a lot of theatre goers will certainly feel way out of the loop.

In a time when the West End is stuffed with stage adaptations of films such as The Lion King and Billy Elliot, Jukebox musicals set to already popular songs and revivals of old classics, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) was less of a celebration of musical theatre, than a slightly depressing reminder of musical theatre’s rising trend to unoriginality.

 
 
Box Office: 0843 289 2144
www.allstarproductions.co.uk
Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4SA
7:30pm Tue to Sat & 3:30 Sun
£12/£10 Concessions
 
 
 

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