Feature: Musical parodies B'way musicals

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Jan. 24, 2004 at 4:12 AM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- A sparkling new musical at the Citicorp Center's Theater at St. Peter's Church is a parody of Broadway musicals and their creators in the form of five short melodramas with but a single plot, a new theatrical idea from the team of Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart.

These two talents met in the chorus of a summer stock production of "Camelot" in 1987 and began their musical collaboration at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop a few years later. They have written several shows including a parody of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie musicals titled "Golly Gee Whiz" performed at Lincoln Center.

They also are half of the four-performer cast of "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!"

Rockwell accompanies the show on the piano, with occasional assists from the other three members of the cast. But he also sings and dances along with Bogart, Lovette George, and Craig Fols, all of whom are mature comic actors who work beautifully together in this York Theater Company production expertly directed and choreographed by Pamela Hunt on a bare stage with back wall projections by James Morgan.

The show creators whom Rockwell and Bogart have chosen to parody are Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. These satirical works with derivative music by Rockwell and witty lyrics by Bogart took five years to write and are successful in varying degrees, with Rodgers and Hammerstein rating the highest entertainment quotient and Lloyd Webber the least.

The five melodramas tell the same story of a struggling young woman named June (also Jeune, Junie Faye, Junita, and Juny) who is in love with Big Willy (Billy, William, Bill, and Villy). She owes rent to her villainous landlord, Jidder (Jitter, Mr. Jitters, Phantom Jitter, and Jutter), who is determined to be paid one way or another (hiss, hiss!).

The fourth character, Mother Abby (Abby, Auntie Abby, Abigail von Schtarr, and Fraulein Abby) plays various roles as June's protector who as the cynical Fraulein Abby of "Cabaret" derivation advises "Sell your body" to pay the rent.

Bogart plays Abby, Rockwell plays Jidder, George plays June, and Fols plays Big Willy. All are dressed in black costumes designed by John Sullivan that do nothing to differentiate the characters they are playing.

Music and words, not costumes and scenery, are what "The Musical of Musicals" is all about, from the very first line of its first song, "Oh, what beautiful corn," sung by Big Willy in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oh, what a beautiful morning" that opens "Oklahoma!"

Song lines satirizing other styles are "Drink your wine/ Cause life's a cabernet" (Kander and Ebb), "It might sound just a teeny/ Like something by Puccini" (Lloyd Webber), ("We all love a show tune/ The plot is not advancin'/ But so what? At least we're dancin'" (Herman), and "The art of retribution/ Depends on execution" (Sondheim). The fun is in connecting the words with the original songs from "Oklahoma!," "Cabaret," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Dolly," and "Into the Woods."

The show closes with a song appropriately titled "Done," a spoof of the finale of "A Chorus Line" titled "One," with these lyrics: "It's over/ It's done/ For theater cognoscenti/ Done/ So we could pay the renty." For the obviously delighted audience the two-hour show has gone so fast that one more parody would not have been unwelcome -- Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe perhaps?

And what are Rockwell and Bogart working on now? They already have written several children's musicals including "The Trials of Alice in Wonderland" and will have a new one, "David and Goliath," ready for production later this year.

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