Anything you can do, icons do better. At least, it seems so in today’s musical theater, with its endless parade of revivals, “revisals,” and ransackings of dead composers’ catalogs. The scene’s grim aura of overfamiliarity offers humorists an irresistible target, of which writer Joanne Bogart and composer Eric Rockwell have taken juicily merciless advantage in their witty multipart parody at the York Theatre, The Musical of Musicals—the Musical! Five Broadway icons—R&H, Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Lord Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb—get their literary and musical comeuppance through the same story told in their five characteristic ways, with the ending suitably altered to fit. Shameless in the way great parodists must be, Bogart and Rockwell have chosen the hokiest of all antique stories—the melodramatic one about the erratic boy, the impoverished girl, and the menacing landlord leering, “Who’ll pay the rent?”
The idea isn’t new. What makes it refreshing here is the team’s deep knowledge. Parody is a form of lovemaking, and the lover who reveals total understanding is truly blessed. Others may burlesque the topical and the obvious; these two draw blood because they know from whence it flows. They’re the musical theater’s equivalent of Queneau’s Exercices de Style, and I wish I had space to quote a dozen of their shiniest gems. To top off the fun, they’re witty performers as well, sharing the stage delightfully with Craig Fols and Lovette George—all four, under Pamela Hunt’s snappy direction, apparently having a grand time slicing up their too-familiar role models into yesterday’s hash. I hope they settle down in some cabaret for an extended run.