Musical aficionados whose appetites for tuner spoofery are still unsated after the latest “Forbidden Broadway” incarnation should be tickled by the endearingly silly self-reflexiveness of “The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!” Transferring from a hit stint at York Theater Co. to an open-ended run at Dodger Stages, this brassy pastiche and its cast of four vocally accomplished hams tell the same featherweight story five times, in the unmistakable styles of five of the most titanic forces in the musical firmament: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb.
Show was written by composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart, who also make up half of the hard-working quartet that sings, dances and plays piano (the other half are Craig Fols and Lovette George).
The pair’s affection for and knowledge of the musical heavyweights’ work clearly runs deep. The parodies often are as show-specific as they are ecumenical in skewering each composer’s signature style, but the digs are subtle enough to keep the cognoscenti smiling and broad enough for occasional musical fans.
The generic plot concerns a sweet young ingenue named June, or variants thereof (George), whose affections are torn between two suitors, one a wholesome lug (Fols), the other a sinister landlord (Rockwell). But June’s romantic path is muddied by her inability to pay her rent and by threats of eviction, or worse.
She finds a confidante and a font of wisdom and advice in the more worldly Abby (Bogart). Each story is basically can’t pay, must pay, can’t pay, must pay, hero pays.
While “The Musical” doesn’t have the teeth of the recent “Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit,” which raised the bar for this kind of musical satire with its precisely targeted insider barbs, its zesty spirit and obvious affection for the material being lampooned become increasingly infectious.
In the Rodgers & Hammerstein riff, “Corn,” musicals “Oklahoma!’ and “Carousel” are the primary targets, complete with a “sort of run-of-DeMille” dream ballet. Bogart’s character becomes a clever hybrid of Aunt Eller, Bloody Mary and “The Sound of Music’s” Mother Superior in a sonorously fruity inspirational based on “Climb Every Mountain.”
The roundabout R&H route to expressing love is echoed in the contrary sparring of “I Couldn’t Keer Less About You” and “I Don’t Love You,” and the traditional lusty-bumpkin opener scores such lyrics as, “I’d gladly forsake any shovel or rake, I’m in love with a wonderful hoe.”
The Sondheim-inspired “A Little Complex” delves mainly into “Company,” “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd,” with an assist in the third section from Mary Jo Dondlinger’s ghoulish lighting. The villain here becomes a landlord/artist/demon, with a yen to slit Jeune’s throat and dip her in papier-mache.
Puns like “A funny thing happened on the way to decorum” or “You were making some pretty specific overtures” are groan inducers, but Sondheim’s intricate rhymes, acrobatic phrasing and dissonant melodies are amusingly pastiched.
Herman’s penchant for showstopping leading-lady entrances (and ovations led by gay men) figures in “Dear Abby,” with Bogart standing in for the ersatz Mame, Dolly Levi, etc., and a stepladder replacing the usual lavish staircase.
Lloyd Webber’s blustery style is paired with a smoke-choked stage and more elaborate yet cheesy lighting effects in the sung-through “Aspects of Junita.”
“The Phantom of the Opera,” “Evita,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Cats” all take a roasting in songs that are stridently overwrought, ripely romantic (“It might sound just a teeny like something by Puccini”) and blandly interchangeable, pumped by vibrato and reverb up the wazoo. The obligatory applause for scene changes even gets a nod.
Lights go up on a cabaret in Chicago in the 1930s-set Kander & Ebb-styled “Speakeasy,” which lays on the lascivious Fosse-esque dance moves as thick as it trowels on the dirty decadence and caricatured German accents.
In some ways the most obvious of the sketches, this is also the funniest, with the rent this time paid in a same-sex flesh transaction, natch. The performers’ verve is especially high in a droll spin on “Cell Block Tango.”
Played on a bare stage enhanced by minimal props and costume variations, the frothy, musically witty show is an economical vehicle that could be easily toured and adapted to fit most small venues.
Vocalizing capably in the broad range of styles required, the limber cast maintains a judicious lid on the material’s natural push toward mugging, with Bogart the standout among them. Her hors d’oeuvres crisis in the Herman sketch “Did I Put out Enough?”; her sassy cynicism when spoofing Elaine Stritch’s “Ladies Who Lunch” in the Sondheim seg’s “We’re All Gonna Die”; and her Dietrich homage in the final sketch’s “Easy Mark,” which advocates selling one’s body (“It’s very special merchandise — you sell it, you still got it”), all earn major laughs.