Throw together four standard characters: a young ingénue, a handsome hero, an evil villain and a wise older woman. Add one simplistic and recognizable plot: Someone can’t pay the rent. Taken together, these elements comprise the backbone of Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell’s 2003 off-Broadway production, “The Musical of Musicals: the Musical.”
A satirical revue of some of the most popular Broadway musicals, the story follows the four characters as they repetitiously move through same basic plot in the style of revered composers such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.
It’s the type of play that New York tourists in the early 2000s would go to see when they got online too late to score tickets to “Rent.” It’s the type of play for which an actor might audition after failing to receive a callback to be a swing in “Rent.” And its clear relationship to “Rent,” a musical that seems less and less relevant as it ages, dates it. With constant references to the city itself, this musical is clearly made for a specific audience: musical theater-savvy out-of-town visitors.
So it’s a surprising choice as Swift Creek Mill’s last show of the 2016-2017 season. But director Tom Width knows his audience, and his audience certainly does know musical theater. The fun of this show is seeing how many references you can spot. Therefore, if you’re not at least a casual fan of musical theater, this show probably isn’t for you.
If, on the other hand, you happen to be a closet Andrew Lloyd Webber nerd, for example, you will leave this show with a song in your heart and Sarah Brightman on your iPod. It rewards this type of audience member with some delightfully deep cuts. The Webber section of the show skewers “Phantom,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Cats,” of course, but there are also references to “Aspects of Love,” “Tell Me on a Sunday” and even “Starlight Express.”
As with any musical revue, performances are everything, and the four actors deliver. Derrick Jaques and Paige Reisenfeld are both versatile singers and dancers who move between the many styles effortlessly. Caroline Whisnant lends her opera vocals and a strong dose of physical humor to the production, and David Atkins’ spoof of the title character in “Phantom of the Opera” is so good that I wish I could see him portray the Phantom in an earnest production.
Paul Deiss does a lovely job with the musical direction. He keeps it simple and intimate with a grand piano onstage and four-part harmonies that fill the theater, making this production feel bigger and grander than it is.
The set design is sparse but versatile, and Tom Width keeps the musical revue spirit of the show. The use of screens and shadows is clever, although the graphics look like bad clip art and the various screens are distracting.
Maura Lynch Cravey’s costuming for this production is smart — she keeps all of the actors in head-to-toe black, adding in key accessories and props to suggest a new style for each character. I especially enjoyed the sexy brassieres and Bob Fosse fashion brought out for the Kander and Ebb portion of the show.
All in all, this is a fun, funny production. It isn’t for everyone, but fans of Broadway and musical theater will find “The Musical of Musicals: the Musical” a delight. S
Swift Creek Mill’s “The Musical of Musicals: the Musical” runs until Aug. 19. Tickets cost $38. swiftcreekmill.com.