Legacy Production of The Musical of Musicals, a ‘Mixed Bag’

Stephanie Stiefel Williams, Karl Gasteyer, and Keely Baisden in The Musical of Musicals (the Musical!) at Legacy Theatre (Credit: Samuel Bibbins)


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Parody requires a very specific touch and a talent from its creators to elevate sometimes already high drama, to the excessive, to accentuate its more memorable qualities, to the point of the absurd.

With The Musical of Musicals: The Musical, composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart take a very simple, classic premise and elevate the absurdity by taking five of the most renowned composers and interpreting a story in the style of the composers.

Directed by Colin Sheehan, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical is running through July 30 at their theater at 128 Thimble Islands Road in Branford, Connecticut.

The story is the classic melodrama of the young ingenue, here named June, played by Stephanie Stiefel Williams, who can’t pay her rent to the villainous landlord, Jitter, played by Karl Gasteyer.

June beseeches advice from the matron, Abby, played by Keely Baisden, and struggles with a possible relationship with the hero, Willy, played by Randall Delone Adkison, who ultimately saves the day.

Unlike other parody shows like the long running Forbidden BroadwayThe Musical of Musicals: The Musical doesn’t do direct parody, lifting say “All That Jazz” from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago, and changing the lyrics to fit the narrative. Instead, Rockwell and Bogart have composed songs in the style of the composers for which each segment is attributed.

For example, the first segment titled “Corn!” is a spoof on the musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The opening number is called “Oh, What Beautiful Corn!” obviously a spoof on “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma! But it isn’t set to the music of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” but is music that is very similar in style.

The second segment is a riff on the musicals of Stephen Sondheim called “A Little Complex.” It is followed by a spoof on Jerry Herman called “Dear Abby,” then “Aspects of Junita” in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and ending with “Speakeasy” a parody of Kander and Ebb.

Though, yes, audience members who are well-versed in these musical theater composers will have a deeper appreciation to the many humorous references throughout, the choice to have such a simple premise of the classic “rent is due” narrative allows for the story to be accessible to the uninitiated.

With this simple plot, for the parody to work, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical must be a go big or go home show. The performances must be over the top, or else the humor will not hit as hard as it should, or just fall flat.

With Legacy’s production, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Setting the standard for the cast is Karl Gasteyer, who is hysterical, nailing the zany quality of playing the lusty sniveling landlord, Jitter. In each segment he goes wildly over the top and it works, especially his blood thirsty Sweeney Todd inspired landlord in “A Little Complex” and his lascivious Emcee from Cabaret inspired landlord in “Speakeasy.”

The other actors have highs and lows. Randall Delone Adkison is a bit stiff as Willy. I would have preferred an almost superhero approach to the role with more grand posturing, which would have made the “Color Me Gay” number in “Speakeasy,” which is inspired by the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman all the more hilarious.

Keely Baisden is mostly adequate, with the exception of the “Dear Abby” segment where she plays a Mame and Hello, Dolly! inspired drunken self-absorbed aging leading lady. Her performance in that segment is excellent and I wish she presented the same energy throughout the rest of the show.

Stephanie Stiefel Williams probably has the hardest part as the hopeless ingenue June. Still, a bit more exaggerated lamenting despair would have increased the absurdist humor. Especially in “Aspects of Junita” as she portrays a Patti LuPone inspired Evita character. Granted, LuPone is already an actress who plays at a 10 if not more, but I would have loved a bit more exaggeration on Stiefel Williams’ part.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that these performances are bad, though sometimes the choreography was pretty sloppy at times, but aside from Gasteyer everyone needed to up the energy through much of their time on stage.

On the technical side, there is some marvelous lighting by Jamie Burnett, who also happens to be the scenic designer. There is a New York City skyline piece that has some marvelous lighting around the border of it that at times makes it either pop out forward, and at other times, creates the optical illusion of it sinking further into the set. It’s a great visual effect used that people with a keen knowledge of color and light can make something simple expressive and textured.

If you have a long love for musical theater, I recommend seeing The Musical of Musicals: The Musical. The show’s concept is simple, yet full of robust nods to theater of yesteryear. Though the performances are sometimes underwhelming, they are still entertaining.