By Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
There’s a classic trope of a girl being harassed by the villain only to be saved by the plucky can-do do-gooder. Here in Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical” we are served the same plot five different ways, each through a stylings of five different famous Broadway songwriters, composers or teams such as Rodgers & Hammerstein (“Oklahoma!,” “Sound of Music” and “The King and I”), Sondheim (“Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Company”), Jerry Herman (“Mame,” “Hello Dolly” and “La Cage aux Folles”), Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Evita”)and Kander & Ebb (“Chicago” and “Cabaret”).
The plot doesn’t really matter. It’s more a musical revue than straight story. It doesn’t even seem to matter to Rockwell or Bogart as long as they get to tell their corny jokes. Don’t worry if you miss one or two, they will be glad to point at the jokes and pound them home. With a sledgehammer. They’ll even tell you when it’s time to applaud.
Greg Coffin pulled off a similar schtick with a brilliant, little cabaret show called “Five Course Love.” Only fewer cast members. It was also far superior to “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical.”
If anyone could make this schlocky show work it would be Robyne Parrish. The director is also part of the ensemble. She may be the best reason to go to Carnegie. She shines every time she’s on stage. Parrish is charismatic and engaging, and the only one to effectively land some leaden jokes. She’s the Sully Sullenberger of musical comedy. She has the je ne sai quoi of Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Rosalind Russell, elegant and hilarious. She’s a joy to watch.
Let’s also doff our over-sized prop cap to Elizabeth Boyke and Brittany Graham, who do some excellent work here. It’s a shame there wasn’t more for them to do.
Some songs work much better than others. There’s a hilarious send up of “He had it coming” from “Chicago,” and a laugh out loud “Phantom of the Opera” number. However, the opening number took “Oh what a beautiful morning,” and turned it into “Corn!” Gordon MacRae is still spinning around in his grave after the opening night performance.
While most of the lyrics are painfully punny, the music itself is beautiful. The songs are magnificently rendered by Musical Director Nancy Gordon Galluzzo on the piano. She masters each musical style with panache.
Discerning audiences have come to expect a lot of the Off the Wall Productions at the Carnegie Stage. “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical” is the kind of pablum you’d get from a lesser theater company. Off the Wall is known for edgier, envelope-pushing material, but “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical” panders to the lowest common denominator. It wasn’t off the wall…it was in your face, and, worse, it was right smack in the middle of the road. It was never offensive, challenging or, for that matter, interesting.
To be fair, I was one of a handful of people in the audience staring back at the actors like an Easter Island Idol on a sold-out opening night; the rest of the crowd was roaring with laughter. “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical” will likely become a huge box office success, and the Off the Wall gang can laugh all the way to the bank. It is my fondest wish that the company won’t redirect their mission to accommodate a low brow audience who needs to have a joke handed to them. Give me “Stop/Kiss,” “Tunnel Vision,” “Or,” or “Well” any day. I’d also take the locally produced sketch comedy troupe, the Harvey Wallbangers, over “M of M – the M” any day.
Luckily, Off the Wall Productions recently announced 2016-2017 season, and it looks like it will put them back on track with thought-provoking material with playwrights such as the Sarah Kane (“4.48 Psychosis”), Lydia Stryk (“An Accident”) and Duncan MacMillan (“Lungs”).
(Off the Wall Productions of “The Musical of Musicals – the Musical” runs till May 21st at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106)