Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Summer Circus Spectacular 2018
The setup is four friends watching a movie musical who decide to put one on themselves, using the oldest plot in the world, "You must pay the rent," I can't pay the rent," "You must pay the rent," "I'll pay the rent"five versions by five different writers. "Corn" in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein gets things off to hilarious start, because this team is furthest back in history and can seem a little quaint. All of their major works get a poke, but I missed references to Allegro, Me and Juliet and Pipe Dream. Sondheim gets skewered next with "A Little Complex." One particularly funny line asks for a little decorum, which quickly becomes "a funny thing happened on the way to decorum." Look, being of the world of musical comedy doesn't equate to having finely honed taste! The first act ends with Jerry Herman's take on our plot, "Dear Abby." If there was a reference to Mack and Mable it sailed past me and was sorely missed.
The second act brings "Aspects of Junita" in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber and "Speakeasy" in the style of Kander and Ebb.
The material is perfect for musical comedy nuts like myself. All that's required is a superlative cast and oh how freeFall delivers. Jennifer Byrne, previously at freeFall in The House of Bernarda Alba, Cabaret, and The Light in the Piazza, is our ingenue. She is also dance captain and offers the best dancing amongst the cast. Robert Teasdale makes a welcome return to freeFall, where he has been seen in a series of supporting roles; I previously singled him out for solid contributions over time. Here he finally has a leading role and proves his talents are up to it. He is best with the "aw shucks" demeanor of the Rodgers and Hammerstein segment.
Our villain Jitter is everybody's favorite Tampa Bay comedy star, Matthew McGee, recently Max Bialystock in The Producers at American Stage in the Park and everywhere else in the region over past seasons. "Featuring Matt McGee" is enough to lure this reviewer. Here, Matt proves his impeccable comic timing when he allows the line "No one is a loon" two solid beats to land properly in the Sondheim segment. Our indomitable mother figure, Abby, is Ann Morrison, who was in the original Broadway cast of Merrily We Role Along. (If you think, yes but that was so long ago, listen to the 20-something Ann Morrison tear your heart out with "Like It Was" and "Now You Know" on the cast recording.) In the intervening years I can remember her cabaret evening of Bernstein and Sondheim where I wished for full choruses of songs for which she offered only a half chorus. All of these fine performers make mayhem of the genre.
Michael Raabe is musical director. Watching the joy with which Michael greets each new show is in and of itself a treat.
Eric Davis directs (property design, too) to help his cast mine as many of the jokes as possible. Even with my personal deep knowledge of musical theater, I cannot guarantee that a few sly lines didn't fly by me, they come so fast and furious. Cheryl Lee choreographs, making parts of the cast that I know to be only adequate dancers look solidly good. I heard that set designer Sean McClelland had raided Michael Raabe's home for some of the theatrical kitch that was all over his setting. If that turns out to not be true, then I have have a few friends whose domiciles he must have emptied instead. David Covach, whose homebase is Asolo Repertory Theatre, has outdone himself with the costumes. Budget-smudget, they look like thousands of dollars of outfits, especially for Ann in the Jerry Herman segment. Tom Hansen is technical director and lighting designer.
I've waited a long time to connect with The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!). With a cast this terrific, it was worth the wait. Musical comedy mavens, don't even think of missing it.
The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), through July 15, 2018, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg FL. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.
Piano: Michael Raabe