Oakland play parodies various styles
Actors presented standout performances in the comedy.
By LORRAINE SPENCER
Watching “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!),” by JoAnne Bogart and Eric Rockwell, at the Oakland Center for the Arts is like being part of a hilarious, two-hour inside joke. Of course, if you’re not familiar with Broadway musicals, you might feel a little left out.
The premise of the play is that four actors perform a script in which an ingénue, June, must find a way to pay her rent to the landlord. Sounds simple. But, they perform this same scenario five times, each time in the style of a different musical theater composer and/or lyricist. If you think that all musicals are basically the same, you’re wrong.
The play parodies the various composers’ styles with entertaining accuracy. Under the capable direction of theater veteran Liz Rubino, the show begins in the light and wholesome style of Rogers and Hammerstein. It then changes to Stephen Sondheim, whose modern musicals often have a darker, more brooding feeling. Then, the happy-go-lucky style of Jerry Herman. After the intermission, there are an Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle and a slinky, sexy Kander and Ebb scene. Each scene both explains and parodies the composer’s style.
The most impressive performance of the evening was that of Brianne Kochunas, as June, in her Oakland debut. Kochunas had a beautiful, clear voice that carried above the rest of the cast. Her characterization of June in each of the different segments was completely appropriate to each composer. She was sugary sweet in the Rogers and Hammerstein piece and perfectly spacey for Sondheim. She had a cute New York accent for the Jerry Herman piece, belted passionately for Andrew Lloyd Webber, and was reminiscent of Liza Minelli for Kander and Ebb.
Equally outstanding was Robert Dennick Joki, as the landlord. His body language and facial expressions were hilarious and his strong voice carried the cast. His tortured Sondheim villain and Kander and Ebb Emcee were standout performances.
Other cast members
Rounding out the cast were Anna Frabutt as Abby, who always had a helpful piece of wisdom to share with June, and Krista Barrum as Billy, the hero. Frabutt had a strong voice and natural stage presence. Barrum showed great versatility playing a wide variety of characters.
Tim Webb, the accompanist, ably played the music in each distinct style and also helped move the plot with entertaining narration.
Choreographers Richard Bell and Liz Rubino did an excellent job reproducing the dancing styles that went along with each composer from the old-fashioned box steps and jazz hands to the sexy moves of Bob Fosse to the more modern practice of just standing and singing.
Liz Rubino and Danna Bozick designed a unit set, always a good idea for the Oakland’s small stage. The set was black and white, with some scenic elements painted on the walls. It was mostly generic, which adapted well to each of the play styles. Webb was also incorporated into the set. He sat at his piano behind a scrim in the middle of the stage. From there he was visible and could be heard easily, but did not distract from the performance. The lighting, designed by Ellen Licitra, also helped to set the mood for each scene.