Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Musical of Musicals
The show is a loving parody of the Broadway musical form, specifically the work of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. Authors Eric Rockwell (book and music) and Joanne Bogart (book and lyrics) achieve this goal by creating five mini-musicals around the old melodrama plot about the wicked landlord, the innocent young woman who can't pay her rent, and the stalwart hero who comes to her aid, along with a wise older woman who serves as the heroine's confidant. Some of the gags will only make sense to musical theater fanatics, but enough are familiar to all audiences to make the show a roaring success.
Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, who both received Helen Hayes Award nominations for the original production, once again appear as the villain and the heroine's friend. They add to their zany portrayals with exaggerated facial expressions (Too much? Not for this show), sly looks and double-takes aimed at the audience, and constant surprises including indescribable sight gags. (Migliaccio is leaving the production in two weeks to play Emma Goldman in the Broadway cast of Ragtime. She will be succeeded at MetroStage by Heather Mayes.)
The other returning cast member is Janine Gulisano-Sunday, the heroine, who gets to be rapturous, angst-ridden, whining, self-absorbed, and desperate in the space of less than two hours. Anderson fits right into the general sense of lunacy, pounding home the punch lines and swaggering in an increasingly silly set of costumes (designed by Erin Nugent).
Here's a sample of what's on display. "Corn!", the Rodgers and Hammerstein takeoff, offers a "run-of-[Agnes] De Mille" dream ballet and a heroic soliloquy; the Sondheim-esque "A Little Complex" incorporates not only relentless wordplay, but also the harsh footlights and shrieking factory whistle of Sweeney Todd; "Dear Abby" brings the older woman into the foreground in the tradition of Dolly Levi and Mame; "Aspects of Junita" tweaks Lloyd Webber's use of "wretched recitative" and repeated melodies, as well as a two-dimensional chandelier that falls faster than the one in The Phantom of the Opera; and "Speakeasy," set in a Chicago cabaret during Prohibition, borrows from Bob Fosse's trademark moves as well as Kander and Ebb's cynical songs.
Lawler, who never gets a chance to leave his piano, has a winning stage presence as well as generous musical talent.
The designers also are in on the joke, from the clashing curtains at the edges of Allison Campbell's set to Terry Smith's lights in unexpected places. Nugent's costumes add measurably to the impact of the performances, notably Migliaccio's literal show-stopper for the end of the first act.