Five musicals for the price of one. That’s essentially what you get with “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!),” which opened Friday, March 15, at the Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 W. Peoria Ave. in Peoria, Ariz. A Theater Works production, the play is written by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart.
June can't pay the rent and is threatened by her evil landlord. The story may be the same each time, but how it’s presented is quite different. Each musical tells essentially the same tale as if seen through the eyes of some of Broadway's greatest composers: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb.
"This production is a valentine to classic Broadway musicals," said Steve Hilderbrand, who serves as both director and musical director, in addition to acting in the play. Those familiar with musical theater will enjoy trying to discover cleverly disguised references to classic musicals. But such knowledge isn’t necessary to enjoy the show. "For those not as well versed in the idiom, the zaniness of the characters and the lighthearted music will keep faces smiling and toes tapping," Hilderbrand added.
Whether expressing their love of corn (à la Rodgers & Hammerstein) or gathering where “life is a cabernet” (à la “Kander & Ebb), all the talented cast members have plenty of opportunity to shine throughout the production. It’s evident they enjoy working together and sharing their sense of fun with the audience.
Theater veteran Hilderbrand takes the stage as Jitter, the terrible landlord who comes up with all kinds of nefarious ways to get his rent paid. Whether as Sir Phantom Jitter or the German-accented master of ceremonies, he makes us love to hate him.
Sally Jo Bannow, another veteran, delights as Abby, who gives advice to June, sometimes in a “Sound of Music” style and then again, not so much.
Both young leads, Camille Gribbons and Brian E. Sweis have strong voices and appealing personalities, which bode well for a long and promising career ahead of them.
It’s hard to believe Gribbons, who plays the ingénue part of June, is only 18 and still a senior in high school. She recently played Kate Monster in another Theater Works production, “Avenue Q: School Edition.”
Sweis, who plays Billy, the romantic hero, has been in such productions as “Phantom,” “Les Miserables” and “The Secret Garden.”
Rounding out the cast are Bill Moore and Zach Funk. Moore accompanies on the grand piano and provides a nice touch with his narration of the action. Funk proves to be an engaging stagehand, moving props around to the cheers and applause of the audience.
The play runs through Sunday, April 7. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., and there is a special Wednesday matinee March 27 at 2 p.m. Order tickets online or by calling the box office at (623) 815-7930.
During the intermission, a woman said to me, “Isn’t it good to laugh?” If you agree, come and see “Musical of Musicals.”
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