Parody of musicals hits all right notes
DENNIS - In the right hands, parody, rather than imitation, may just be the highest form of flattery. With “The Musical of Musicals . . . the Musical!,’’ a recent off-Broadway hit enjoying its regional premiere at the Cape Playhouse, composer Eric Rockwell and writer Joanne Bogart render hilarious homage to five pillars of the genre: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber (he alone is subjected to real ragging), and Kander and Ebb. So well known are their works, you needn’t be a musical maven to catch the winking references, the melodic and textual nods. But the greater your familiarity with the canon, the more fun you’re apt to have playing Name That Twisted Tune.
Not a single passage is lifted intact, the better to evade royalty fees. The script takes a classic melodramatic story line - “ ‘I can’t pay the rent!’ ‘You must pay the rent!’ ’’ - and crafts it in five distinct styles. In each vignette, Bogart plays the older, wiser confidante to Kristen Maloney’s financially strapped ingénue. Brent Schindele is on hand as the not always eager-to-help-out boyfriend, and Matt Castle, who doubles as pianist/narrator, assumes the mustache-twirling roles.
“Corn’’ is the title given the Rodgers and Hammerstein pastiche, which includes elements of “Oklahoma!,’’ “South Pacific,’’ “Carousel,’’ “The King and I,’’ and “Sound of Music.’’ It sets the tone and introduces the first of countless showbiz puns. Castle provides running commentary as the two young lovers “dance a highly symbolic ballet, sort of run of de Mille.’’
The Sondheim tribute, “The Complex,’’ is so fiendishly clever and spot-on, it’s right up there with the best of the wordsmith’s own work. Castle plays a “landlord-slash-artist-slash-demon’’ who decides to slaughter his tenants after they literally trash his work, mistaking it for litter. In a sprightly tune reminiscent of “Have a Little Priest’’ from “Sweeney Todd,’’ he toys with methodology: “Hemlock is easy / but too Socratesy.’’ While he’s busy insisting, “I am not a loon / Truly, no one is a loon,’’ Bogart breaks in with a morbid variation on “Ladies Who Lunch’’ and Schindele touts “a hummable melody’’ that is anything but.
With Jerry Herman, we get snippets gently sniping at “Mame,’’ “Hello, Dolly!,’’ and “La Cage aux Folles,’’ which all - give or take a gender - have the same focal point: a fabulous, somewhat past-it glamour hound urging the little people to “take my advice and live!’’
Cue the fog machine, and it can only be Andrew Lloyd Webber, proffering tunes “that I made up myself in 1897’’ (“It may sound a teeny / bit just like Puccini’’). The gamely comic, mercurial Maloney is part Evita, part Christine from “Phantom’’ - with “a voice like an angel . . . a whiny, self-absorbed angel.’’ Bogart draws from “Sunset Boulevard’’ for an “Over the Top’’ number, while Schindele reveals the feline fur (mustn’t forget “Cats’’) lurking beneath the mask.
Kander and Ebb means “Cabaret’’ crossed with “Chicago,’’ and here Bogart gets to deliver a Lotte Lenya-esque pitch for prostitution: “It’s very special merchandise,’’ she growls. “You sell it, you still got it.’’
Bogart suggests in her bio that, having played “the old broad role in every musical,’’ she pretty much wrote “Musical of Musicals’’ to keep herself amused. She’ll do the same for you, whatever your musical IQ.