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The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! | Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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play_musical_smMMM imagines the same cookie-cutter plot treated by four different legendary musical-theater teams. A young woman can't pay her rent. She's menaced by a cruel landlord, but has hope that a dashing young man will ride to her rescue.

 

 

 

Music by Eric Rockwell | Lyrics by Joanne Bogart | Book by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart
Directed by Pamela Hunt
Through Dec. 29, 2006

play_musical 

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! offers essentially the same experience as Forbidden Broadway. Where the former is a survey of musical theater, parodying everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Kander and Ebb, the latter is topical. And that's about the only substantive difference.

They both have tiny casts (MMM has four performers) and no costuming or sets to speak of, and they both traffic in the sort of gentle, tame humor that tickles and never scandalizes.

MMM imagines the same cookie-cutter plot treated by four different legendary musical-theater teams. A young woman can't pay her rent. She's menaced by a cruel landlord, but has hope that a dashing young man will ride to her rescue.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein version features jokes about corn (from Oklahoma) and dozens of other one-liners that make reference to The Sound of Music, South Pacific, The King & I, and so on. It's typical of the other three-quarters of the evening: rapid-fire jokes, most making reference to classic musicals, that you either get or you don't.

And that's the difficulty for the writers of this sometimes witty, sometimes vanilla show parody. They're counting on the audience laughing from recognizing several hundred references from several dozen musicals. It's a prospect more easily realized by, say, the All the Great Books: Abridged gang than by these folks. Of course, it's all in the eye of the beholder. Some will insist that scant knowledge of musicals is all that's required for big laughs. But I'm not some, apparently.

When it works, it's great: the Andrew Lloyd Webber parody opens with a piano on wheels turning circles in a puff of smoke, a reference to the Brit's fondness for lowbrow special effects. The audience adored it. A joke about gay men paying tribute to Carol Channing cracked everyone up.

But when MMM uses generic humor rather than risk an obscure referent, that humor can be a bit of a stretch. Puns like "Cutting off limbs would be disarming!" are embarrassing.

And the stale humor, in combination with references too oblique for many, and other, overly broad jokes, may overwhelm the gems here.

Actors/singers/dancers Matt Bailey, Edwin Cahill, Kristin Maloney, and show creator Joanne Bogart turn in physical, funny, tight performances, though. And if you love love love musicals, you won't want to miss MMM.

But if you love love love a sharp parody, this may not be quite sharp enough. | Byron Kerman

Above photo: Kristin Maloney, Joanne Bogart, Edwin Cahill, and Matt Bailey. Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

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