While the masks of comedy and tragedy date back to the ancient Greeks, the joyful addition of music to the mix didn’t arrive until the 19th century, in England with Gilbert and Sullivan and in America with Harrigan and Hart. The ground-breaking sounds of such classics as “Showboat” and “Oklahoma” pushed the medium over the top. Now Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart are taking a novel look at that platform of entertainment in a combo of tribute and spoof with their “The Musical of Musicals The Musical” being aired at the Chestnut Street Playhouse in Norwich until Sunday, February 25.
What better way to salute musicals of the past than with a tongue-in-cheek, slightly jaundiced peek at the masters of their craft. Starting with Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, Rockwell and Bogart create a scenario where a young woman June (Corey Gonzales) can’t pay her rent and wants Billy (Marc Bibeau) the hero to dramatically save her, while Abby (Maureen “Moe” Pollard) offers friendly matronly advice and Jitter (Justin Carroll), the villainous landlord, is full of threats. Replace the epic “Oklahoma,” with “Corn” and you are half way up to an elephant’s eye. Here the cob is celebrated in Kansas in August, love is in the air and everyone enjoys a symbolic ballet, ah shucks!
The theme continues with a nod to Stephen Sondheim as the troupe ventures into the woods, in this case a New York apartment, where a crazed artist threatens June to pay her rent or else pose for paintings. With echoes of “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Sondheim is lambasted with meat pies galore.
The joyful tunes of Jerry Herman in such treasures as “Mame,”and “Hello, Dolly!” are twirled around the dance floor in a swank apartment owned by Abby who only takes a moment to introduce her knicker kneed nephew Billy to Jitter and the world of high society. Here Dear Abby is the life of the party.
The mask of Sir Phantom Jitter is firmly in place as Andrew Lloyd Webber sails into “Aspects of Juanita” who is, remarkably, still in need of rent money and of being rescued. She needs to become a super nova in the spirit of “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” if she has any hope of surviving.
With “Cabaret” and “Chicago” in the limelight, tribute is paid to that great song writing team of Kander and Ebb, as June is still without a sou to her name. Will she need to sell her body to end her debt as Prohibition rages and guilty pleasures abound? Tune in and see for yourself. Hunter Parker gets into the spirit of the spoof with enthusiasm and energy in her direction.
For tickets ($15-75), call the Chestnut Street Playhouse, 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich at 860- 886-2378 or online at www.boxofficechestnutstreetplayhouse.org. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Come discover the fate of the well flaunted musical in the hands of these actors as they sing and dance to their hearts’ delight.