Musical of Musicals (The Musical) Proves Everything Old Can Be New Again

Musical of Musicals (The Musical) has a beard a mile long. This send-up of Broadway tuners should, at this point in the let's-spoof-musical-theater game, play like a post-peak retread, an afterthought of irony, a late-to-the-party lesser-than Forbidden Broadway.

But, in its Theater Works production, there is the joy of watching a fine-tuned cast play perfectly together. There's the bonus of a versatile musical director who's as much a part of the cast as the players. And there are Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's expert parodies of the musical stylings of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The conceit here is that each of the five acts is an "in the style of . . ." musical that tells, while rather rigorously spoofing the aforementioned composers, that old saw about the angry landlord ("You must pay the rent!"), the busted damsel ("I can't pay the rent!"), and the hero who rescues her ("I'll pay the rent!").

If there's any genius in this revue, it's that Rockwell and Bogart have created musical homages that are so spot-on, they could be the real thing. Patrons who don't know their Sondheim song structures will still enjoy clanky references to "making overtures" and silly stories about depressed people (the songs in their heads are never melodic) and a murderer who plans to cover them in papier-mâché, all living in an apartment "complex" called The Wood. Even the groaners are surprisingly fun: In the Webber section, The Phantom is "a cat of many colors," while the Kander and Ebb segment is set in a cabaret in Chicago, where everyone sings a song about "goodbye" in several different languages.

There's a surprising lot of naughtiness, besides. A penis joke ("Mornin', Big Willy!" Sally Jo Bannow hollers, staring straight at Brian E. Sweis' crotch) is followed by a song sung by a farmer who's "in love with a beautiful ho(e)!"

In a crowded field of fine performances, Bannow is excellent. Her Jerry Herman heroine, a twitchy amalgam of Dolly Levi and Mame Dennis, is a riot. Steve Hilderbrand's irate landlord milks every villainous laugh, and Sweis and Camille Gribbons, as the young leads, harmonize beautifully and are alternately hilarious and very sweet. They, and multitalented accompanist and narrator Bill Moore, prove that, however briefly, everything old can be new again.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela