By BRIAN BINGAMAN
Leading off Montgomery Theater’s 21st season is “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).”
If you figured out from the title that the show is a satire of musical theater, you get the joke, and this show is for you. Written by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, “The Musical of Musicals” is actually five separate-but-loosely-linked vignettes that equally pay tribute to, and mercilessly make fun of, Broadway giants Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.
If you can’t stand musicals, there’s a lot of laughs to be had because the show gleefully skewers everything that you hate — syrupy sentiment, endless obligatory applause interludes, egomaniacal leading ladies, hammy acting, gross campiness, choreography cliches, and of course the constant singing. A recurring gag in the show is a song that begins with lyrics about how “helpful” the previous song was.
In “Aspects of Junita,” a parody of “Evita” and just about everything else by Webber, an exasperated Junita (Chelsea Grace Claiser, who in other scenes becomes June, Jeune, Junie Faye and Juny) and Bill (Michael Doherty, aka Big Willy, Billy, William and Villy) ask: “Can’t we just talk?”
“I’ve heard that song before,” Junita repeats, self-conscious of musical theater’s storytelling style.
However, “The Musical of Musicals” is an even bigger laugh riot if you’re familiar with hit musicals like “Into the Woods,” “Cabaret,” “Hello, Dolly!”, “Mame” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”
In “Corn” — a mashup of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” — one of the show’s finest moments pokes fun at “Carousel”’s epic ballet sequence.
Also, be alert for amusing references to “Sweeney Todd,” “Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Sound of Music,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Chicago” and more. In that respect, “The Musical of Musicals” offers an education in the history of musical theater.
Featuring a cast of just four actors — local guy Joseph Michael O’Brien is the various incarnations of the villain landlord Jidder, Jitter, Mr. Jitters, Phantom Jitter, and a show-stealing turn as Jutter; and former Miss New Jersey Erica Scanlon Harr is Mother Abby, Abby, Auntie Abby, Abigail VonScharr and Fraulein Abby — “The Musical of Musicals” is tailor-made for Montgomery Theater’s signature minimalist staging. It’s a marvel how quickly this fun quartet is able to change costumes although their characters basically stay the same.
Pianist Michele Ferdinand, who has to present the distinct musical essences of several different composers, is placed directly at center stage, and yet isn’t a distraction.
Now wouldn’t it be really funny if years later Rockwell and Bogart got a teasing tribute like this?
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).”
WHERE: Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton.
WHEN: Show times through May 4 are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays April 27 and May 4.
INFO: Call (215) 723-9984 or visit www.montgomerytheater.org.
Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman.