After participants in the musical fell ill with COVID, the cast for the fall term’s musical did not know if the show would go on. “The Musical of Musicals” took place a week late on the evenings of Nov. 4 and 5—only two of the four planned performances. As the title suggests, it was a parody of famous musicals, and although some of the jokes were too niche to land, the singing and acting was consistently excellent, giving way to a fantastic performance.
Five distinct, though interconnected, short stories defined the show. Each was aligned by its basic plot, which included four archetypal roles, often with slightly varying names: the wise lady Abby who advises the ingénue June, who is saved from the evil landlord Jitter by the heroic Billy. The overarching theme of needing to pay rent occurs throughout as a clear tribute to Jonathan Larson’s “Rent”.
A full company number opened the musical, consisting of familiar quirks from a typically cheesy musical theater introduction. The first story, “Corn!”, was a parody of the musical duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, known for classics such as “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel” and “The Sound of Music”. Set in summertime Kansas, unless Big Willy intervened, June would be forced to marry the landlord Jidder.
The script’s colorful writing was supported by excellent delivery. The line “[over there a] chipmunk is reading a bible” from Carter Antin (Big Willy) and the “I Don’t Love You” song between Antin and Layne Eklund (June) were particularly memorable. Throughout the story, stage directions were drolly announced aloud, which seemed overplayed after the first few times.
Two nonsensical songs from “Corn!” were particularly funny, the “Delicious Clam Dip” and “Daylight Savings Time” numbers. Both came out of nowhere within the story and warranted substantial laughter and lengthy applause.
The following story, “A Little Complex”, parodied Stephen Sondheim, whose credits include “Company”, “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”. Set in a New York apartment, it concerned the artist-murderer Jitter who aimed to, and eventually succeeded in, murdering his tenants Jeune, Billy and Abby.
Matthew Carlson’s performance as the Sweney Todd-derived Jitter was particularly comedic and matched in vocal quality by his castmates of the scene. Despite the grim plot, interjections from the entire cast with flashlights kept the mood light, as did memorable lines such as “Roses can be red, violets can be blue, some lyrics rhyme, some don’t.”
Perhaps the most bizarre of the scenes was “Dear Abby!”. Based on the style of Jerry Herman—who is best known for “Hello Dolly!”—there was scarcely a plot besides a series of tributes to the socialite Abby. Dancing was featured prominently in this story, and was presented with a fitting mix of humor and entertainment.
After a brief intermission, “The Aspects of Junita”, based on the work of Andrew Lloyd Weber, took place. In parodying shows such as “Cats”, “Evita” and “The Phantom of the Opera”, the story was all over the place, but purposefully so. Casey Joan Kollman’s performance as Junita managed to remain humorous and musically excellent.
The finale, “Speakeasy”, parodied the duo Kander and Ebb, known for productions such as “Cabaret” and “Chicago”. Alec Welhouse’s performance as the creepy landlord Jütter included impressive characterization, while Holly Beemer’s vocal performance as Juny was outstanding.
With every scene of the show there was an uneasy balance between obvious and niche jokes. “The Aspects of Junita”, for instance, included clear insults at the leading soprano’s conceitedness beside more specific jokes on Lloyd Weber’s alleged plagiarism of Puccini. Carlson commented that while there were “a lot of musical references that were hard for people to get […] it was a general comedy [and certain aspects] were generally funny.”
The performers had to traverse numerous obstacles in the way of the performances. A delay merely hours before opening night due to a COVID-19 case raised doubts over whether the show would be performed at all. Both Antin and Carlson expressed frustration with how the administration handled the delay but agreed that their Saturday night performance did the work justice.