Raves For Understudy

Hastily Scheduled 'Musical Of Musicals' Is Standing O's Funniest Yet

August 02, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Midway through its second season, Standing O announced Altar Boyz had to be replaced because of casting problems, leading artistic director Ron Giddings to substitute it with the humorously (and redundantly) titled The Musical of Musicals: The Musical. Having premiered off-Broadway in 2005, Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's parody of five major Broadway composers met Standing O's criteria of introducing recent exceptional theater works to this area. This choice qualified as its funniest show yet - a musical comedy that evokes laughs laced with nostalgia.

In about 90 minutes, composer Rockwell and lyricist Bogart affectionately spoof the musical styles of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb. Everyone from the most adoring Broadway musical aficionado to the casual theater-goer only remotely acquainted with Oklahoma!, Hello Dolly, Cabaret and Phantom of the Opera could find loads of laughs here.

The script replayed the story line of a financially strapped young female tenant saying, "I can't pay the rent" to a landlord who answers: "You must pay the rent" before the boyfriend offers, "I'll pay the rent." This same basic plot was adapted to five distinct musical styles.

First was "Corn," parodying Rodgers and Hammerstein's shows Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I and The Sound of Music with familiar tunes set to lines like "don't throw Okays at me" and "Follow your dream. Don't ask me why. Follow your dream, until you die," in Mother Abby's "Climb Every Mountain" takeoff.

In the second segment, "A Little Complex" (set at The Woods), Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, referring to pointillist painter Georges Seurat of Le Grande Jatte fame, was spoofed in "I've no money, que sera, que Seurat!" and Sweeney Todd was parodied in a properly atonal tune with lines like "Hemlock is easy/but too Socratesy."

Herman was mocked in "Dear Abby" as the star made a grand Hello Dolly entrance at the top of the stairs singing, "I can't sing or dance, but I'm the star of the show" and deliciously parodied Mame's "If he walked into my life" wondering, "Did I put out enough," referring to her hors d'oeuvres assortment.

"Aspects of Junita" satirized perhaps the easiest target - Lloyd Webber - with lyrics such as "If you've heard this song before, you will hear it even more. ... It may sound a teeny bit like Puccini." And later a la Sunset Boulevard, the actress sings, "Who cares if you're over the hill, as long as you're over the top?"

"Speakeasy" spoofed Kander and Ebb in a combined Cabaret/Chicago opening of a "Willkommen" send-up: "Hasta la vista and Erin Go Bragh" and "Drink up. Life is a cabernet." Later, Fraulein Abby counseled June on how she might raise the rent money: "Sell your body - you sell it, you still got it."

Over a two-weekend run of six performances, Standing O showcased a dream cast of four, who apparently were waiting in the wings for this delightful show to come along.

Strong singer-actress Debbie Barber-Eaton proved to be equally skilled as a comedienne. The supremely confident Dolly star was hilarious as Mother Abby and as she seemingly morphed from Carol Channing and Ethel Merman to a world-weary chanteuse - in each instance cast as the older and wiser woman who advised the ingenue June.

Young June was played by triply talented Sara Cobb, who displayed a gorgeous soprano equally at home with full-voiced classic show tunes, warm ballads or show-stoppers - each complete with feeling and charm, and humor where needed. Cobb proved a graceful dancer as well.

Ron Giddings gleefully played the nasty landlord, proving again that he knows his way around any song - as Oklahoma's lonely Jud or Phantom-masked, displaying great pipes along with deft comic timing. Giddings' strong dance skills were most evident in the riotous send-up of Cabaret.

Completing the group was consummate song-and-dance man Jason Vellon, who made every step look easy and every song memorable. Cast as the boyfriend winning June's heart multiple times, Vellon undoubtedly won several of the audience members' hearts as well.

This foursome made every scene fun and every pun understandable. They are all multitalented comedians who can sing and dance and move nimbly through each musical genre to parody every one with panache. They deserve multiple bravos for introducing us to this "Musical of Musicals."

The next show scheduled for Standing O's 2009 season is Mr. Marmalade, set for Sept. 11-13 and Sept. 18-20 at Chesapeake Academy's black-box theater in Arnold.

A black comedy that has been described as "alternately hilarious and heartbreaking," playwright Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade premiered at New York's Roundabout Theater in November 2005. It tells the story of precocious 4-year-old Lucy, a girl in a pink tutu who is ignored by her mother, and her imaginary playmate, a man in a suit who carries a briefcase, is always in a hurry and has a cocaine addiction - Mr. Marmalade.

If you go

For more information about Standing O's continuing season and to order tickets, go to Standing O's Web site at standingoproductions.org.

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