To those with superficial knowledge of DramaTech Theatre’s latest production, Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell’s “Musical of Musicals: the Musical!,” it must seem that the Institute’s theatrical community has gone completely mad.
The playbill reads like the pitch of a used car salesman cursed to always tell the truth. There are five ostensibly independent scenes that all have roughly the same plot. The five listed characters, who appear in each scene, are categorized by archetype.
The play bills itself as unremarkable, unoriginal and boring. In an alternative, depressing universe, this self-description might be the set up for an awful, unamusing evening. However, in this universe, it is the set up for something beautiful: satire.
The production sets itself the ambitious goal of mocking not just a few particular plays but rather theatre in its entirety. This goal makes the show so great: mocking an individual play would be mean, but mocking theatre as a whole turns out to be hilarious. While “Musical of Musicals” does mock a few specific plays, it is clear to the audience that its focus is on the wider world of drama instead of individual productions.
Through five different theatrical styles, the play examines the same clichéd plot: the Ingénue (Cassidy Ray) cannot pay the rent she owes the Villain (Sam Puckett), forcing her to seek advice from the Matron (Caroline Geckler) and eventually allowing the Hero (Mikael Bucknavage) to intervene romantically, paying the rent and saving the day.
While the production’s use of the repeated plot to mock clichéd characters and tropes is thought provoking and funny, the play’s greatest strength is the constancy of its humor. No moment in the show is left empty; when its writers are not making fun of a theatrical trope, they are dropping one-liners that leave the audience in tears of laughter.
This double-edged sword of inherently funny comedy that also holds deep meaning is wielded in the constant references made to corn during the play’s first scene. While the absurdity of watching characters obsess over corn is naturally funny, the audience is also aware that the Bogart and Rockwell are satirizing the emphasis placed on the American agricultural heartland in drama.
Likewise, while most members of the audience notice that the production is criticizing sexist archetypes through the Ingénue, they also cannot resist laughing at the absurd naiveté of Cassidy Ray’s character.
“Musical of Musicals” is the ideal satire: the audience knows exactly what the production is trying to do, yet they cannot help but be both amused and entertained when “Musical” does it. The play makes fun of everything wrong with theatre, from sexism to racism to plain old dryness, and it does it with beautiful taste and comedy.
The excellence of the production extends beyond Bogart and Rockwell’s perfect execution of satire. DramaTech’s cast and production crew elevate the experience from a funny and intellectually engaging musical to a properly entertaining evening.
Cassidy Ray plays a convincing Ingénue, and Mikael Bucknavage could not be more perfectly suited to the role of the hero. Caroline Geckler holds her own as the Matron, and Sam Puckett turns in an impressive performance as an absurdly sinister Villain.
The stars’ solid performances back up the play’s excellent satire, but the main cast is not the factor that truly sets the show apart. Rather, the pianist Robert Solomon and the Man Upstairs (James Nugent) steal the show with their hilarious and constant antics. While the two play tangential roles during the main scenes, they spar more like brothers than cast mates during breaks, leaving the audience in constant laughter even during the intermission.
Excellent production quality combines with a truly hilarious and stimulating play in a tribute to what is possible in theatre with little reliance upon plot. More importantly, however, the pairing forms an experience that is guaranteed to leave audiences laughing and thinking every time. “Musical of Musicals” runs again from April 20 through 22, and those who missed it during its first weekend should not hesitate to give it a try.