Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Pictured: Dana Jean Phoenix, Mark Cassius

JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
24 DEC 2013
R: 3/5

In Gypsy: A Musical Fable, lyricist Stephen Sondheim (inadvertently perhaps) offers advice to aspiring musical theatre producers, cloaked in his ode to burlesque's ladies who lurch: "You can pull all the stops out till they call the cops out, grind your behind till you're bent," sings Mazeppa, the weary hoofer, "But you gotta get a gimmick, if you wanna get ahead." It is advice composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart clearly heeded, and hence, THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL has not just one gimmick, but five.

But not all gimmicks are created equal, as evidenced by Vintage Productions' take on their show, revived after a successful Fringe Festival stint this summer for a limited commercial run at the Panasonic Theatre. In a world where imitation is recognized as the sincerest form of copying, Rockwell and Bogart band together to tell and re-tell the same simple story five different ways, each version in the style of one of the lions of 20th century musical theatre. 

To begin, they tell the story of the hapless June (Dana Jean Phoenix) in the style of Rogers & Hammerstein in a vignette titled Corn — an obvious homage to Oklahoma! But as the melodrama progresses — June can't pay her rent and so is being forced to marry her evil landlord, Jitter (Mark Cassius), but is rescued finally by the leading man Willy (Adrian Marchuk), while the diva Abby (Paula Wolfson) offers advice from the sidelines — they touch on pretty much the entire R&H canon, in a series of songs slyly referencing the teams' style without ever slipping into actual plagiarism. And, despite the casting, they avoid any reference to June is Bustin' Out All Over —  which is commendable.

From there, they tell the same story four more times, tackling, respectively if not always respectfully, the styles of the aforementioned Sondheim (A Little Complex), Jerry Herman (Dear Abby!), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Aspects of Junita) and Kander & Ebb (Speakeasy), throwing in an homage to Marvin Hamlisch at the end for good measure. Musical director Michael Mulroney, seated on stage at a grand piano, provides musical accompaniment and sardonic commentary throughout.

It's a talented cast and director Vinetta Strombergs makes the most of what is clearly a limited production budget, taking Rockwell and Bogart's admittedly "Inside Baseball" book and score and enlivening it with touches borrowed from directors like Rouben Mamoulian, Harold Prince and Gene Saks and choreographers Agnes de Mille, Larry Fuller and Bob Fosse.

But despite her best efforts, Strombergs simply doesn't have the resources to transform a Fringe hit into a mainstage offering, particularly when she's encumbered with an intermission in the middle of a 90 minute show, which simply lets the air out of a production that has just found its legs after a lacklustre start. But in the end, this show's problems are more than merely budgetary — and if you want to know what's missing for too much of it, take a listen to Adler & Ross's score for Damn Yankees — that song about "All you really need is heart." 

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