'The Musical of Musicals' one of few Fringe shows picked up by Mirvish | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'The Musical of Musicals' one of few Fringe shows picked up by Mirvish

Paula Wolfson and Mark Cassius and in the Toronto Fringe hit “The Musical of Musicals, The Musical!” THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-Josie Di Luzio
December 16, 2013 - 8:00 AM

TORONTO - The history behind a Toronto production of "The Musical of Musicals, The Musical!" has about as much drama as the genre it spoofs.

When the musical theatre parody premiered at Toronto's Fringe Festival last July, it was a critically praised smash and won four awards. But it hit a snag when severe weather in the city forced the cancellation of a sold-out performance due to flooding at its venue.

As rolling blackouts threatened to kill the next day's performance, Mirvish Productions came to the rescue at the 11th hour, allowing the show to run at a rehearsal/yoga studio. As the 200 patrons trekked by foot, car and transit to the impromptu set, volunteers set up dozens of mismatched office chairs to accommodate them.

Mirvish subsequently picked up the show for its 50th anniversary season, with the first performance scheduled Wednesday at the Panasonic Theatre.

"It's pretty rare, considering that there are around 120 to 140 shows in the Fringe every year and it keeps expanding," Vinetta Strombergs, the show's director, said of the opportunity to hit the big Mirvish stage so soon after its festival debut.

"In all the (25) years of the Fringe, I only know of three shows that have been picked up by the Mirvishes, so we consider ourselves very lucky. The previous ones were 'The Drowsy Chaperone,' probably the most famous of all the big hits, 'Da Kink in My Hair' and 'My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding.'"

Billed as "a satiric love-letter to the musical theatre of the 20th century," the show features one storyline told in five different styles, each of which spoofs legendary composers.

Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart wrote the book for the musical, which premiered off-Broadway in 2003 and has since been produced around the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Rockwell also wrote the music while Bogart penned the lyrics.

The story follows a young woman named June who can't pay the rent demanded by her villainous landlord, Jitter. June gets advice from older Abby and is ultimately saved by her heroic boyfriend, Willy.

The first version of the story is a happy tale set in Kansas and told in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The second takes on a darker tone, with the setting of a New York City apartment complex and the inspiration of Stephen Sondheim.

The third incarnation parodies the style of Jerry Herman and offers the glitz and glamour of a traditional Broadway show, while the fourth offers a stylish and sexy flair a la Kander and Ebb.

The fifth and final version takes a cue from Andrew Lloyd Webber and is a sung-through pop opera complete with a Phantom.

"Five musicals in one — what a bargain," said Strombergs.

"We've tried to really maintain the integrity of capturing the essence of what we love about those great musical theatre creators while still having some fun, and everybody recognizes the jokes. There is a difference between Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman ... and it's fun doing the different styles."

"That being said, even if people are not familiar with musicals, they're still going to enjoy it because the comedy is written so well," added Paula Wolfson, who plays Abby.

"You're going to recognize the type of character, even if you don't recognize the specific reference."

And musical theatre geeks need not worry they'll come off looking foolish.

"We're poking fun at musicals, but it's also a Valentine to them," said musical director Michael Mulrooney, who has added his own harmonies and arrangements to the Toronto production.

"And these people can really, really sing, so it's just a pleasure to be around."

Other stars include musical theatre veteran Mark Cassius as Jitter, Dana Jean Phoenix as June and Adrian Marchuk as Willy.

Phoenix said it's her first time playing an ingenue — and her first big break after recently graduating from Sheridan College's Musical Theatre Program.

"It's pretty much a Cinderella story to be a part of such a hit Fringe play, and to get picked up by Mirvish is really a dream come true."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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