Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musical of Musicals

David Taylor Gomes, Michael RJ Campbell, Kelly Ann Dunn
and Brad Bong perform in Sacramento Theatre Company’s
“The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!”
Charr Crail Photography/Courtesy photo
Anyone who has ever written song parodies knows how difficult it can be. To write lyric parodies and melody parodies is downright brilliant, so Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart may be real musical geniuses.

“The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)” is making a return appearance on Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock Stage and is every bit as amusing and entertaining as it was when it first played here in 2011.

David Taylor Gomes acts as narrator and accompanist and explains to the audience that their beloved theater is about to be torn down because the actors can’t pay the rent. He begs the mean landlord (an offstage voice) to let them produce one more show and he’s certain they can pay the rent. Reluctantly, the landlord agrees and Gomes promises they can write a blockbuster.

The group then presents five possibilities: one in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Corn”), one in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Aspects of Junita”), one in the style of Jerry Herman (“Dear Abby”), one in the style of Stephen Sondheim (“A Little Complex” — “nobody understands Sondheim”) and one in the style of Kander and Ebb (“Speakeasy”).

All five musicals have the same plot, a heroine (Kelly Ann Dunn) named either June, Junita, Junie Faye or Juny, who can’t pay the rent, and a sinister landlord (Michael RJ Campbell), who will have his way with her if she can’t pay the rent.

Then there is the hero (Brad Bong) who will save her and the older diva (Martha Omiyo Kight), who will deliver the epic advice song to help the heroine make the right decision.

While all performers are excellent, Dunn is particularly noteworthy for her ability to sing several musical styles, from the corny Rodgers and Hammerstein to the more operatic Lloyd Webber — and sound authentic in each genre.

What makes it all work is that the writers of this show not only understand each of the styles they are parodying, but they obviously respect them and love poking fun at them.

“Corn,” for example takes “Oklahoma” as its base (“Oh What Beautiful Corn”) but then tosses in shows like “Carousel” (there’s even a salute to clam dip), “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and others.

“Big Willie” sings a salute to corn in which he tell us that a lark learning to pray needs to be carefully taught, and later on that milking cows will leave him with a pound and a half of cream upon his face. He also, when unsure about things, tells us that they’re a puzzlement. Mother Abby sings “Follow Your Dream,” to encourage June to make her own decision.

In “Aspects of Junita,” Junita repeatedly sings “I’ve heard this song before,” a reference to the repetitive nature of many of Lloyd Webber’s musicals. The villain also becomes Sir Phantom Jitter, an opera impresario who wants Junita to sing one of his operas (She: You wrote it yourself? He: Do you know opera? She: No. He: Yes, I wrote it myself.)

“Dear Abby” is a salute to all those Herman heroines, like Dolly, Mame or Albin from “La Cage aux Folles” (Jitter is told to put some more mascara on), while the pianist explains that the audience wildly applauds before they’ve done anything.

The section on Sondheim (“It’s Complex”) takes place in an apartment complex called “The Woods.” There is a lot of “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George” about this piece.

The show closes with a salute to Kander and Ebb, which not only includes their famous musicals (“Cabaret” and “Chicago”) but also “Liza with a Z,” written for Liza Minnelli, transformed into “Julia with a J.”

With direction by Michael Laun and choreography by Michael Jenkinson, this becomes an evening of sparkling entertainment sure to appeal to any musical theater fan.

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