REVIEW: The Musical Of Musicals, Above The Stag Theatre ✭✭✭✭✭

Julian Eaves reviews The Musical of Musicals by Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell now playing at Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall.

The Musical Of Musicals review Above The Stag Theatre
Photo: PBG Studios

The Musical of Musicals
Above The Stag,
23rd November 2018
5 Stars
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There is an art in doing revue well: all you need is the best script, the best score, the best cast, the best director and choreographer, and best designer and lighting and sound, and everything else is easy.

Such is the case with this gorgeous diamond of a show currently delighting musical theatre cognoscenti at this new theatre’s bijou small performance space.  For those of you who remember this outfit at its previous address further down the line under another arch, this is almost exactly the same size at the last space, which makes the adoring and devoted regular clientele of the capital’s fabulous LGBTQ+ theatre feel right at home.  And that is just as it should be.  This is insiders’ theatre for insiders: a five-part portmanteau of parodies of leading musical theatre creators, each act re-telling the same story, but moulded expertly into the styles and nuances of the target originals.

Musical Of Musicals Above The Stag
Photo: PBG Studios
First up is Rodgers and Hammerstein, a wise choice for lucid exposition of the corny story that is to be repeated in ever sillier formats and manners.  Eric Rockwell’s music and Joanne Bogart’s lyrics (and the book by the both of them) are never less than spot on in their anatomisation of the quirks and habits of the Williamson boys.  And in the graceful hands of newcomers Charlotte Christensen and Sev Keoshgerian and Cecily Redman, and the possibly ever so slightly more experienced person of James Thackeray, they get deliciously apt and straight-faced interpretations.  They are knowingly and vigorously accompanied by MD Simon David (another regular here).  And choreographer Carole Todd gives us endless pleasures, including a brilliant micro-ballet, complete with some of the most iconic movements and gestures from ‘Oklahoma!’s epic Act 1 finale.  Always, though, Robert McWhir’s direction is clear as a bell and achieves with his four players an ever changing parade of groupings that keeps us believing in the nonsense at the same time that we are laughing at it.
Above The Stag The Musical Of Musicals tickets
Photo: PBG Studios
And laugh we do.  The jokes come in torrents and waves, if you are up on your musical theatre canon.  In the second ‘act’: a cruelly perfect vivisection of Sondheim, in a swanky New York apartment building – ‘The Woods’ – we hear the siren from ‘Sweeney Todd’ sound, to which the leading man responds: ‘The doorbell’.  The observation is razor-sharp and martini-dry and perfectly charming as well as absolutely smashing its object to pieces.  Not for nothing, one feels, has the great eminence himself railed against ‘parody’ as a genre.  He knows whereof he speaketh.  If you don’t know all the background stuff, as my neighbour did not, you will still be charmed by the vivacity and briskness of the fun.
Closing the first half, we march boldly into the ueber-costumed indulgence of Jerry Herman’s land of teeth and smiles, complete with super-rapid frock changes and staircase-top entrances to milk applause as if it were gold top.  Stewart Charlesworth provides the skeletal, multi-purpose set and cleverly flexible costumes.  Jack Weir, a house specialist, lights them all to perfection.  Then, after a breather, we are back for more, in the form of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and finally Kander and Ebb’s litany of sins of success.  Really, the actual target of the satirists’ efforts seems to be less the writers themselves and rather more our own obsession with them, and our capacity to merge, say, the Phantom with Evita as if they really did belong in the same story.  Because, in a sense, they do: they belong to our story, the story of our love affair with musical theatre.  And where better to come to a fuller understanding of that magnificent obsession than in the miniature comic universe of this show of shows?


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