“What woman doesn’t want to play Evita?” Janine Gulisano-Sunday asked me at the reception following the opening of “The Musical of Musicals” at MetroStage Sunday evening.
The local actor, is happy to settle for spoofing the heroine of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical by the same name.
This witty lyric driven show is a local adaptation of the off-Broadway musical which parodies the style of five musical composers: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb. The works of these icons are already familiar to most of the audience. But just in case, you’re one of those who hasn’t seen the likes of “Phantom of the Opera” or “Oklahoma” there are plenty of sets and props from smoke to a falling chandelier to dramatize the story. In fact, so many, that if you’re not careful, that and the over-acting can distract your focus away from the clever lyrics. This cast, who feel like MetroStage family since all have played in other productions at the theater, have not seen the original production, and therefore put their own stamp on the show.
The opening Rogers and Hammerstein sequence is homespun and corny, and yes, they actually shuck the corn on stage. But stick around for “A Little Complex” in distinct Sondheim style. The lyrics are brilliant. The first two scenes build up to a more fun and energetic Jerry Herman parody prior to intermission when Bobby Smith in drag spoofs Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly.” The Auntie Abby role played by Migliaccio – originated by Joanne Bogart, who wrote “Follow Your Dream” as an exercise in a BMI workshop and then developed it into the cabaret act – is powerful in the Herman sequence.
The original New York production is done as a bare set with the cast — which included writer Bogart — dressed in black. Larry Kaye, who directs the Alexandria production, told me, “We increased the production value with our own take on it.” His biggest challenge was to show the surprise in each scene, such as the chandelier falling. “The Webber sequence was the most problematic for us in rehearsals,” he continued. “It has the most bite– more acerbity than wit there. ” The lyrics tell us about Webber stealing material from others. Bobby Smith, playing the phantom, sings a song that’s “beautiful and new. . . so new that who would sue.” The parodies of “The Rink” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” were well done.
The Musical!” plays Thursdays through Sundays through June 3 at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA.The Kander & Ebb sequence was the most difficult for actor Donna Migliaccio. “I’m 51 in a little bitty outfit and had never danced,” she told me after the show. “Nancy [Harry, the choreographer] made me learn to dance and was patient with me until I was brave enough to do it.” Although the action takes place at a Chicago speakeasy, the classic Fosse mannerisms are ignored. Migliaccio put on an enthusiastic performance as Fraulein Abby in response to “Can’t pay the rent, what would you do?” She sings: “Sell your body. It’s very special merchandise. You sell it, you still got it.”