‘Sometimes one musical is not enough!’ This is the tag line that accompanies Upstage Theatre Company’s production of the Off-Broadway spoof The Musical of Musicals: The Musical. With book, music and lyrics by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, the show’s simple plot of paying rent is acted out by four characters: tenant, landlord, hero and neighbour, each section in a different musical song-styling, comprising of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "Corn", Stephen Sondheim’s "A Little Complex", Jerry Herman’s "Dear Abby", Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Aspects of Junita" and Kander and Ebb’s "Speakeasy".
Comedy is a tricky business, but spoof can be even more problematic. To recognise spoof, the audience has to appreciate and have an understanding of the core material. Generally, this wasn’t too much of a problem, but this production certainly appeared to have 'The Grand Old Duke of York’ effect: when they were up, they were up, and when they were down, they were down. In the opening scene Mother Abby sings ‘the hills are alive, but you’re half dead’. Sadly, so are half the cast. On one hand, Matt Fullerton (Willy), Chris Johnston (Jidder) and Lucy Mills (June) are confident and reasonably assured in their roles, particularly Mills who establishes herself as the star attraction very early on. However, they are let down by inconsistent performances by Lynn Mulvenna and Suzanne Sellers who share the role of Abby, losing much of the character’s wit and charm with shoddy delivery, moments of lackluster and underplayed characterisation. It’s never a good sign when an actor is upstaged by a smoke machine.
Director Peter Screen keeps the production ticking along, but this show shouldn’t just tick, it should revolve at double speed with razor-sharp execution. Screen does produce some lovely touches, but for me these don’t come often enough. There is some witty choreography by Andrea Finbow, particularly the Jerry Herman ‘dance-break’ and effective projection design by Mark Hughes.
This production does amuse and at times has the audience in fits of laughter. However, a bit more polish is required if it is to truly sparkle. It’s ironic that at the end of the 90 minute comedic piece, one was grateful to hear the show’s finale number "Done". Generally, it needs a bit longer in the oven, as this one is slightly ‘underdone’.