As you can pretty much tell by its title alone, “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)” is a light-hearted romp of a play, and its current production at the Parsippany Playhouse should be seen by any major theater fan in need of a laugh. Because those laughs come fast and furiously.
The show’s clever idea is to combine five mini-plays in the styles of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb, with a grand finale that nods to “A Chorus Line.” Each mini-play has the same plot: An ingenue (played here by Jenna Ravenda) who can’t pay her rent is threatened by evil landlord (Scott McGowan) but is saved by helpful older woman (Patricia Durante) and a dashing young man (Zach Mazouat) who comes up with the money.
Composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart, who collaborated on the book, have packed the play — first produced off-Broadway in 2003 — with a nonstop barrage of silly gags and clever puns. In a parody of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” for instance, the mini-play’s hero sings an ode to corn that includes lines such as “I’m in love with a wonderful hoe” and “What’s this in my tooth?/It’s a kernel of truth/Shucks, what beautiful corn.”
Patricia Durante, as the older woman, gets some of meatiest roles, including a over-the-top “Dolly”-like diva in the Jerry Herman segment, and wonderfully sharp-edged Elaine Stritch-like lady who lunches in the Sondheim skit.
Some classic plays figure prominently in the action — “Cabaret” in the Kander & Ebb segment, for instance, and “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Evita” in the Webber parody — while others just get a quick reference or two.
When the ingenue in the Sondheim portion asks the landlord to “show some decorum,” he replies, “A funny thing happened on the way to decorum …”
Posters for “Oklahoma!,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mame” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” hanging on the back wall, help create a sense of atmosphere. A lone musician, pianist Deborah Martin, accompanies the actors throughout.
With its fast pace, quick costume changes and nonstop stream of insider-joke theatrical references, it’s the kind of play that could easily become chaotic or unfocused. But the actors, under director/choreographer Lauren Moran Mills’ leadership, deserve credit for not just making the whole evening go smoothly, but for consistently projecting a sense of fun and high spirits. They’re clearly having a great time, and I can’t imagine any theater-goer not having a great time right along with them.
The Women’s Theater Company presents the final three performance of “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)” at the Parsippany Playhouse in Lake Hiawatha, March 31 and April 1 at 8 p.m. and April 2 at 3 p.m