If music be the food of love… and there’s certainly a lot of love for all things musical theatre in Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s off-Broadway hit The Musical of Musicals (The Musical), which has returned to Islington’s King’s Head for a Christmas run following its UK premiere at the Sound theatre earlier this year.
The lively revue-style show sees a simple story line – girl can’t pay rent to evil landlord and needs to be saved by dashing leading man – presented in five different versions, each one “lovingly ripped-off” (well, if they can do it…) from musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein-inspired piece features plenty of songs about birds and corn, and a hero called “Big Willy”, which sets the tone for the ensuing musical pastiches that contain as much double-entendre and famous composer-bashing as possible.
Julie-Alanah Brighten (replacing Joanna Ampil from the show’s earlier run) plays the young female lead with a pleasing voice and a sense of fun – although her heroines are almost exactly the same in each musical, which may or may not be intentional. Paul Baker (replacing Geoffrey Abbott) is a suitably dastardly baddie, camping it up enormously as the aspiring artist landlord who wants to slaughter all his tenants in the Sondheim-inspired piece, and as the cocaine-snorting Emcee in the Kander and Ebb rip-off. Meanwhile, Ian McLarnon makes a handsome enough leading man, and Susannah Fellows almost steals the show as the star of the Jerry Herman send-up, during which she encourages the audience to applaud her every exaggerated move.
“There’s a fine, fine line” – to quote another musical, not featured in this show – between humorous pastiche and simply bad versions of what has gone before; The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) stays – for the most part – on the right side of that line under Julian Woolford’s direction, and provides an entertaining night out for musical theatre fans.