In Sacramento Theatre Company’s delightful production of “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!” ambitious ingénue Junita pleads with grande dame Abigail Von Schtarr to share her secrets for becoming a big star like, well, Miss Schtarr.
Miss Schtarr, introduced as “the greatest star who ever lived,” graciously obliges – in song, of course: “Be more self-indulgent, than you ever thought you could. Keep it loud, then add more reverb ... And your name will stay over the title, as long as you’re over the top.”
“Over the top” is the right descriptor for this tour de farce, a wild, engaging and often hilarious homage to the passion and quirks of musical theater. Sacramento State alumnus Eric Rockwell and his writing partner, Joanne Bogart, have written an effervescent, fast-paced play that bubbles over with droll puns, clever Easter eggs for theater insiders and crazy new lyrics for familiar tunes.
This is the second time that Sacramento Theatre is presenting “The Musical,” having first staged it as part of the 2010-11 season. However, this season’s version includes updated material from Rockwell and Bogart.
“The Musical” is actually five mini-musicals within a musical: The down-on-their-luck Tried and True Players are being kicked out of their space because they cannot pay the rent. The landlord – an offstage voice who is heard but never seen – is giving the troupe one last chance to present a hit that will keep the theater doors open.
The Players respond with five short productions, each of which mimics and parodies the styles of an iconic songwriter or songwriting team: Rodgers and Hammerstein (famous for, among other productions, “Oklahoma,” The Sound of Music” and “South Pacific”); Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita” and “Phantom of the Opera”); Jerry Herman (“Hello, Dolly!” “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles”); Stephen Sondheim (“Into the Woods, “ “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George”); and Kander and Ebb (“Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Zorba”).
What makes this production shine is the strong acting, singing and dancing chops of the four talented actors in their respective melodramatic roles of hero (Brad Bong), villain (Michael RJ Campbell), ingénue (Kelly Ann Dunn), and matron (Martha Omiyo Kight). They each move seamlessly into and out of the variations of their roles with each new musical theater style.
Lesser performers or misguided direction might have turned this professional parody into an amateur mishmash of faux-blown lines, pratfalls and mock off-pitch singing. But the laughs – and the music and movement – come naturally to this ensemble. Bong and Dunn, in particular, partner on several funny, well-performed solos and duets, and glide through an impressive pas de deux.
At one point during the Lloyd Webber tribute, Dunn’s character Junita – mocking Webber’s rock-opera formula – says to Bong’s character Bill: “I’m tired of having to sing everything. Can’t we just talk? ... I don’t understand a thing you say. We never talk anymore.”
Campbell is alternately imposing and comical with his five variations on the theme of villainy. As Jitter, the Sweeney Todd-like murderer in the Sondheim-styled piece, he sings: “I am not a loon, truly, no one is a loon, stay with me,” a funny riff on “No One is Alone” from “Into the Woods.”
The fifth stage performer is the versatile David Taylor Gomes, who serves as musical director as well as an onstage show runner of sorts. Seated at an onstage piano for the entirety of the musical, Gomes accompanies his fellow cast members through all the songs while also barking out an occasional stage direction and even tongue-in-cheek orders to the audience on when to applaud.
Director Michael Laun, who serves as Sacramento Theatre’s executive producing director, picked his acting ensemble wisely and, working with choreographer Michael Jenkinson, made great use of the tighter performance space in the more intimate Pollock Stage. At times, the blocking is so well spaced and the movement so fluid and synchronized that it appears there are more than five bodies on stage.
That said, the production would have benefited from more attention to the set and costumes. While recognizing the need for rapid scene changes, more could have been done to help dress the stage and the actors, and better embrace and distinguish among the five musical styles.
“The Musical of Musicals” is another positive sign of STC’s commitment to and recognition of the quality of homegrown talent. Rockwell’s writing credits include “A Little Princess” and “The Donner Party,” both Sacramento Theatre world premiere musicals. And just this past year, the theater company presented “Kings of America,” a compelling world premiere written by native Sacramentan Sean Patrick Nill.
Musical of Musicals: The Musical!
What: A newly revised parody of musical comedies that pays homage to five iconic Broadway songwriters and songwriting teams. Written by Sacramento State alumnus Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart. Music by Eric Rockwell and lyrics by Joann Bogart. Directed by Michael Laun.
Where: Sacramento Theatre Company, Pollock Stage, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 11.
Cost: $20-$38, including discounts for students, seniors and military.
Information: 916-443-6722 or www.sactheatre.org
Running time: About two hours, including a 15-minute intermission