ABOUT CENTER REP

Reviews

 

By Pat Craig
Staff writer
Contra Costa Times
05/21/2008

 

If you enjoy musicals, "The Musical of Musical (The Musical)," Center Rep's latest production, is a frenetic and hilarious must-see show.

This is particularly true if you're the sort of person who can identify the show by hearing phrases such as, "like a lark that is learning to pray" or "stru down the street and have your picture took," because, the more you know about minor musical details, the more this show will make you laugh.

OK, even if you don't know anything at all about things like life being a cabaret or meat pie cannibalism, "The Musical" is still one downright funny show. Admired on the basis of silliness alone the show is a sure-fire laugh-grabber. Toss in the parodies of musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander and Ebb, and the piece becomes breathlessly funny.

"The Musical" features a high-energy, comically gifted cast of four, who strut across the stage like so many Broadway babies to tell many versions of the story about a lovely young damsel who is unable to pay the rent, and the hero who is willing to pay it to save her from the evil landlord.

In "Corn," the first mini-musical, which makes light of the talents of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the classic "Oklahoma" is tickled into fits of hilarity when June (Dani Marcus) a pretty young thing can't pay her rent to the evil Jidder (Mark Farrell). Jidder has a lease that says June has to marry him if she can't pay.

Of course this riles Big Willy (Quinn Van Antwerp), who is sweet on June, but like many young fellers, is uncertain about any sort of long-term commitment. And as this plays out, the older and wiser Mother Abby (Milissa Carey) offers the timeless sort of advice reminiscent of the guidance given to Lt. Joe Cable by Bloody Mary or to Capt. Von Trapp by Max Detweiller.

The premise is funny on its own, but if you realize at least one reference to the entire Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog has been slyly included in the short play it becomes just that much funnier.

And that's basically how each episode is delivered, from the urbanized angst of "A Little Complex," the Sondheim send-up to "Aspects of Julia," where you'll see Evita Peron running through the lands of "Phantom of the Opera" and "Sunset Boulevard" in the Webber parody.

Director Mindy Cooper has imbued the production with a frothy lightness and zippy pace needed to make any musical work (and since the show is poking fun at some of the authors' silly habits, it's best not to linger long on anything). Musical director Brandon Adams, who has a few lines from behind the on-stage piano, delivers the score with a facile brightness.

And, finally, the actors are wonderful, seeming to take a fiendish delight in playing numerous characters, all having fun at the expense of American Musical Comedy.


By Sally Hogarty
Contra Costa Times
05/28/2008

 

Wow — you know you've got a hit when you have to extend a show before it's even open! Such is the case for Center Rep and its current hit "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical." The Bay Area premiere of Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's tongue-in-cheek revue of Broadway musicals now runs through June 21 at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.

Divided into five mini-musicals based on the classic damsel in distress story (beauty who can't pay the rent, evil landlord, handsome hero and wise matron), the show makes fun of the various musical conventions of Broadway greats. The first mini, titled "Corn," pokes fun at Rodgers and Hammerstein, while "A Little Complex" spoofs the edgy style of Sondheim. "Dear Abby" takes on Jerry Herman, "Aspects of Juanita" has fun with Andrew Lloyd Webber's blockbusters, and the final mini-musical, "Speakeasy," parodies the jazzy works of Kander and Ebb.

If you are a musical theater aficionado, you'll enjoy finding which musicals turn up in the various segments. But, even if you don't have an extensive knowledge of musical theater, the original songs and witty humor — not to mention the enormously talented performers — will keep you entertained. Director/choreographer Mindy Cooper says she looked for performers who could "change DNA" from one minute to the next in order to draw out the feeling of each mini-musical. She certainly found them in Milissa Carey, Dani Marcus, Mark Farrell and Quinn Van Antwerp, who sing and dance their way through 14 musicals! For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW.


By Sam Hurwitt
East Bay Express
05/28/2008

 

American musical theater is ripe for parody. There is something inherently ridiculous about characters bursting into song for no particular reason, and the trend of making musicals out of unlikely popular movies threatens to make the genre almost synonymous with overblown misfires.

In short, it's an excellent time for Center REPertory Company of Walnut Creek to offer the Bay Area premiere of Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's comedy The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! (No relation to Berkeley Rep's recent TRAGEDY: a tragedy.) The same rudimental story is told in the style of five different musical-theater songwriting teams. Most songs parody specific numbers but often veer into bits borrowed from other musicals by the same songwriters, and often egregious puns reference the rest of their oeuvre.

First captured in a very funny silent-film intro by Jeffrey Draper, the common thread is the classic melodrama scenario of the damsel in distress and the predatory landlord: "You must pay the rent!" "I can't pay the rent!" "You must pay the rent!"

Directed and choreographed by Mindy Cooper, the same four actors play alternate versions of the same roles throughout: Dani Marcus as cash-strapped ingénue June, Mark Farrell as leering landlord Jitter, Quinn Van Antwerp as strapping hero Willy, and Milissa Carey as maternal advisor Abby. Musical director Brandon Adams accompanies the action as the omnipresent pianist and sometime narrator.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein homage "Corn" is mostly a delightfully corny parody of Oklahoma! with hints of Carousel. "Oh, the chipmunk is reading the Bible," cowboy Big Willy sings with hilarious earnestness, and June's plummy diction contrasts amusingly with the countrified pronunciation. Farrell's grubby landlord is a small, small man bristling with resentment. "Now ah'm gonna go back to mah lonely room," he says petulantly — "to look at pitchers! Pitchers of dirty girls!"

The Stephen Sondheim section, "A Little Complex" mixes a whole lot of Sweeney Todd with a dash of Company, casting Jitter as a murderous, frustrated artist (to squeeze in some Sunday in the Park with George jokes) who runs a modern apartment complex full of neurotics. June's plight is just a footnote in the Jerry Herman chapter "Dear Abby," very much in the mode of Mame, as nerdy Junie Faye and the fellas sing about filling time until their fabulous hostess reemerges in a fabulous new outfit to deliver a pithy quip. The Kander-and-Ebb-style "Speakeasy" takes two parts Cabaret to one part Chicago, with Jutter the flamboyant emcee, Juny the struggling showgirl, Villy her jailbird fiancé, and Fraulein Abby as a vampy Marlene Dietrich type.

Best of all is "Aspects of Junita," hilariously parodying Andrew Lloyd Webber's over-the-top bombast, special effects, sung-through pop opera ("We Never Talk Anymore") and alleged plagiarism (Junita's oft-repeated refrain "I've Heard That Song Before"). June as an egomaniacal Evita type is paired with Jitter as the Phantom of the Opera, with bits of Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar thrown in.


The Musical of Musicals, The Musical!
By Judy Richter
Aisle Say

 

Take a basic plot of melodrama: Sneering landlord, the villain, wants the rent. Fair maiden, the heroine, can't pay the rent and consults with an older, wiser woman. Handsome man says he'll pay the rent. Fair maiden calls him her hero. Sneering landlord slinks off. The end.

After showing it as a silent film (by Jeffrey Draper), tell the story five times, each in the style of a legendary composer or team. What do you have? You have "The Musical of Musicals (The Musical)," a hilarious, clever parody being presented by Center REPertory Company. Created by composer Eric Rockwell and lyricist Joanne Bogart, with a book by both, the show is a musical theater lover's feast, serving up music and lyrics in the style of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. It's loaded with puns and allusions -- music, lyrics, sets and choreography -- to each of the five's best known works.

Even someone well versed in musical theater will be hard-pressed to catch everything on the first sitting, for some of the references are quick and subtle. On the other hand, some of the puns are real groaners. For example, in the first scene, featuring Rodgers & Hammerstein, after the hero says OK to the heroine, she responds, "Don't throw OKs at me."

Besides the material itself, Center REP's production owes much of its success to director-choreographer Mindy Cooper; musical director Brandon Adams, who does double duty as onstage pianist and occasional singer; and the talented cast of four: Quinn Van Antwerp, the hero; Dani Marcus, the heroine; Milissa Carey, the older woman; and Mark Farrell, the villain. All four display their versatility throughout the show, singing, dancing and acting with terrific comic timing.

Scenic designer Robert Broadfoot keeps things simple, yet the visual allusions abound. In the opening scene, "Corn," the Rodgers & Hammerstein segment, a windmill and cornstalks are silhouetted against a rosy sunrise (lighting by Kurt Landisman) -- reminiscent of the opening scene of "Oklahoma!". Cassandra Carpenter's costumes also take their cues from the original musicals. The sound is by Jeff Mockus.

In that opening scene, the hero, Big Willy, sings "Oh, What Beautiful Corn," and mentions his joy at living in Kansas in August (as in "I'm as corny as Kansas in August," the opening line of "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy" in "South Pacific"). It goes on from there, with sprinklings of "Carousel," "The King and I," and "The Sound of Music." The older woman, Mother Abby, sings an inspirational song to the distraught heroine, June, that's a pastiche of R&H's inspirational songs: "Climb Every Mountain" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

The Sondheim scene, "A Little Complex," draws its main inspiration from "Sweeney Todd," with dollops of "Into the Woods," plus sprinklings of "Merrily We Roll Along," "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Follies," "Sunday in the Park With George," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Pacific Overtures." Much of it is brilliant, just like much of Sondheim's work.

"Dear Abby," the third scene, draws from Herman, mostly "Mame," "Hello Dolly," and "La Cage Aux Folles." The villain, Mr. Jitters, shows up in drag, complete with a Carol Channing wig.

After intermission, in "Aspects of Junita," Webber comes in for some ribbing for borrowing or repeating tunes and for creating spectacles such as "Evita" and "Phantom of the Opera," the shows most heavily parodied. Also on the agenda are "Aspects of Love," "Starlight Express," "Sunset Boulevard," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Completing the show, there's "Speakeasy," the Kander & Ebb segment with the primary allusions to "Cabaret" and "Chicago" along with bits of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Liza With a Z." Cooper's choreography effectively uses some signature moves from Bob Fosse.

As a finale, the four performers honor the groundbreaking "A Chorus Line" (music by Marvin Hamlisch, direction and choreography by Michael Bennett) with riffs from the opening scene, the performers' mug shots and the final scene, here called "Done."

Of the five scenes, the Herman one is the weakest, perhaps because there was less material to draw from. The others were stronger, undoubtedly because of the richness of the material, especially Sondheim and Webber.

No wonder that even on opening night, Center REP announced a one-week extension. This show is a hit, worth seeing more than once to enhance the pleasure and catch more of what might have been missed the first time.


By Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave
BeyondChron
05/23/2008

 

THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS: The Musical! It’s wild, it’s inventive. It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed. In Musical of Musicals, five different stories are performed in the style of five different famous Broadway composers – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb. This is not just fun – it’s outrageous fun with a terrific cast that could take on any role in any Broadway show.

From Oklahoma, Big Willie sings… “Oh, What a Beautiful Corn” – instead of the usual “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” He sings on – “I’m in love with a beautiful Hoe.” Which comes out sounding a lot like “Ho.”

From ‘Company’ the mix-up of shows continue, by making light of ‘Company’ in Sondheim style. This time its called “A Little Complex” – as they sing “All of our tenants are a little neurotic.” From “Sound of Music” – there is “Climb every mountain … playing with my own little - Willie-.”

Nothing is sacred in this wide sweeping fun-a-long show. There is a segment on Andrew Lloyd Webber shows. They sing – “I’ve heard that song before. It sounds a little teensy, weensy bit like Puccini.” There is even a falling Chandelier.

You’ll recognize some of your favorite Broadway stars like Elaine Stritch, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Jerry Herman. In the Stritch segment the song is “Did I put out enough?” based on a song from Follies.

When the Phantom asks the ingénue: “Do you know Opera?” she answers “No.” “Good, I wrote it myself.”

In the Jesus Christ skit… Mary Magdalene says: “I’m tired of hearing you sing. We never talk anymore.” Also in the cast of characters you’ll roll out of your chairs with Norma Desmond, Evita, Che Guevara and Kander and Ebb whose ‘Cabaret’ becomes ‘Life is a Cabaret.’

There is more: a fantastic jail scene from the musical ‘Chicago’. And what else? Well, put on your top hat and lets hear 5,6,7,8 from Chorus Line.

Forbidden Broadway this isn’t. This is more creative and more hilarious. Plus – there are plenty of eye-popping boisterous moments. It’s a one-of-a-kind endearingly wacky look at Broadway musicals and the composers. “Musical of Musicals” is so marvelously bizarre that you will want to drag everyone you know to see it. Believe me … it’s a BLAST!

THE PERFORMERS: They hooked me right off the Bat! That would be the spectacular and astonishing talents of Milissa Carey, Dani Marcus, Mark Ferrell, and Quinn Van Antwerp. If there was ever a perfect cast – this is it. They made the whole evening pure bliss. You want the ‘WOW’ factor? They don’t get any WOWIER than this show.

EXTRA: Here’s a note in the program that I loved. (((Really good actors like the ones listed never appear in the chorus unless it turns out that, well, they have to. And then they do so only grudgingly.)))

Mindy Cooper directs with ferocity. The Scenic Design by Robert Broadfoot is a delight. Kurt Landisman’s lighting is really special as usual, and the Sound by Jeff Mockus was clear as a bell. And what would a musical be without costume designer Cassandra Carpenter, who obviously is a reincarnated Edith Head.

The Center Rep production is at The Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked –


By Richard Connema
Talkin' Broadway.com

San Francisco Bay Area theatergoers finally have a chance to see the plucky little musical, The Musical of Musicals, now be presented by Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek.

The Musical of Musicals has two smart lyric writers, Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, with Rockwell contributing upbeat melodies. Milissa Carrey, Mark Farrell, Dani Marcus and Quinn Van Antwerp give winning performances in all five of the mini-musicals. It took a lot of chutzpah for Rockwell and Bogart to satirize the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb.

Rockwell and Bogart take one simple, corny melodramatic plot about an innocent girl, her charming and heroic suitors, a menacing landlord and rent that's past due, and rewrite the story in different styles as though penned by the famous Broadway composers. These five mini-musicals are deliciously merciless. The first one is Corn, put-on of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!. The pianist-narrator Brandon Adams describes the scene as "Kansas in August." The audience first sees "Mother Abby" (Milissa Carey) in the corner singing what sounds like a Rodgers and Hammerstein song. There is Big Willy (Quin Van Antwerp) who sings about his willy and June (Dani Marcus) who is cute as a button. There is the evil Jidder (Mark Farrell) who likes to look at dirty pictures. Zingers come fast and furious. Willy even sings is his powerful voice a version of ",Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" using the clever lyric "the lark has taught the chipmunk to read the Bible." There are little bits of melodies and lyrics from Carousel, The Sound of Music and South Pacific put in for good measure.

The second scene, called A Little Complex, is set in The Woods Apartment Complex. If you love Stephen Sondheim's music, this one you've got to see. It is the best of the five as far as I am concerned. The four sing "Irony," "Ambiguity," "Dissonance" and "Angst," which seem to appear in all of Sondheim's musicals. Some catchy lyrics such as "don't feel obtuse because it's a bit abstruse" run though the whole scene. Mark Farrell shines in this segment as the landlord, a "mad and murderous painter" who must have neurotic June, played by Dani Marcus, pose for him. There is a wild mixture of Company, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George in this zany scene.

The third scene is Dear Abby, a great spoof of Jerry Herman's music. We get smatterings of Hello Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles, Mack and Mabel and of course Mame. Milissa Carey is wonderful as Abby (Mame) who comes down the stairs dressed in a sparkling grown singing "I can't sing or dance, yet I'm the star of the show." However this segment goes on a tad too long.

Following the intermission, the four zany singers/actor perform in Aspects of Junita, which of course is a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. Rockwell and Bogart reserved their sharpest cutting remarks ("I've heard that song before") for Webber, whom they impale during this overexcited scene. Dani Marcus as Junita is marvelous as she appears in a window upstage, high above the audience singing something a little like "Don't Cry for Me." Mark Farrell is a real hoot as he hams it up as the Phantom.

The last scene is a jazzy Kander & Ebb lampoon, Speakeasy, a Cabaret/Chicago style musical that also borrows from Liza with a Z with Mark Farrell splendidly manic as the emcee and Milissa Carey with a priceless Lotte Lenya voice playing Fraulein Abby. Her lounging on the chair singing is side splitting.

Brava to Mindy Cooper who not only directs this rapid paced show but choreographs as well. Brandon Adams provides great back-up on the piano and narrates some of the show. Cassandra Carpenter designed some authentic Broadway costumes to fit each scene, and Robert Broadfoot's sets are a great asset to the each scene. The lighting by Kurt Landisman is especially first rate in the Corn number.