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BWW Reviews: Moonbox Makes Merry With Musical Mash-up

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)

Music by Eric Rockwell, Lyrics by Joanne Bogart, Book by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone, Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Scenic Design, Dale Conklin; Costume Design, Marian Bertone; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Props Master, Cameron McEachern; Stage Manager, Alexandra Shoemaker; Executive Coordinator, Andrea Sweeney; Producing Artistic Director, Sharman Altshuler

CAST: Katie Clark, Peter Mill, Meredith Stypinski, Phil Tayler; Ensemble: Julianne Daly, Nicholas Davis, Matthew Kossack, Caroline Lellouche, Allison Russell, Andrew Winans; Standbys: Dani Apple, Nelson Bettencourt; Dance Captain, Matthew Kossack

Performances through December 20 by Moonbox Productions at Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com

The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) has something for every fan of musical theater with its oh-so-familiar sounding songs, and offers an opportunity for the uninitiated to have a crash course in learning to distinguish between the styles of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb. With a simple cliché of a story at the heart of each scene ("I can't pay the rent!" "Pay the rent!" "I'll pay the rent!"), the original musical numbers "in the style of" each composer make the difference in five hilarious sketches featuring four lead characters and an ensemble who sing their hearts out as if they were in a real Broadway show.

Rachel Bertone seamlessly blends her dual roles as director and choreographer to make the evening pass in a New York minute. She takes us on a journey that starts on a farm in a place like Oklahoma, to a New York City apartment complex called "The Woods," to a swanky penthouse, to a mysterious masked man's lair, and a cabaret in Chicago, to mention a few of the locales. Scenic designer Dale Conklin uses a minimalist approach with ramps and a staircase flanking a center platform where Music Director Dan Rodriguez sits at the piano. David Wilson's lighting design creates a variety of environments ranging from a bright corn field to a dimly-lit cell block. Designer Marian Bertone does the heavy lifting in helping to fashion the right image for the characters in each sketch with an incredible array of costumes.

In order to make TMoM work, the cast has to combine a seriousness of purpose with an appreciation for the parody that runs rampant through the book by Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart and Bogart's lyrics. They also have to be gifted with range to portray basically the same character in each sketch, but within the paradigms of five different musical theater giants, and they have to sing and dance...a lot. In the Moonbox production, this is not a problem. Katie Clark (June), Peter Mill (Bill), Meredith Stypinski (Abby), and Phil Tayler (Jitter) definitely take the task seriously, squeezing out all the juicy laughs while apparently enjoying themselves very much. They are ably supported by the singing and dancing ensemble of Julianne Daly, Nicholas Davis, Matthew Kossack, Caroline Lellouche, Allison Russell, and Andrew Winans.

While the entirety of the show is funny and diverting, and there are many theatrical references to enjoy or groan at, each of the actors has several moments that would make the highlight reel. Returning to Moonbox from life in New York, Mill's voice is richer and more mature which serves him well in the capacity of the hero. His roles include the singing cowboy in Corn, the overgrown nephew of the Auntie Mame-like character in Dear Abby, and, in a mash-up of Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman, he's the heroine's jailed boyfriend who sings "Color Me Gay." Clark is a hoot in the many versions of June, but never funnier than as Junita in Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Junita.

The character of Abby is the dour doomsayer, usually pointing out that everybody is going to die. Stypinski plays it straight-faced and strikes all the right poses; she gets to break out with vim and vigor and flashy costumes in Dear Abby, but my favorite is her Elaine Stritch moment in A Little Complex. Tayler may have the most fun playing the villainous landlord and he just keeps getting better as the show goes on. His sharpest work comes in the Sondheim segment where his faux Sweeney Todd is an artist with a lethal brush, and in the Kander and Ebb Speakeasy sketch as the depraved emcee. Bertone's choreography challenges the ensemble dancers to show their versatility throughout and they do not disappoint, whether performing ballet, tap, or roller skating.

The Musical of Musicals opens the fifth season of Moonbox Productions and, as is their custom, the company spotlights the work of a local non-profit organization, helping them to increase the reach and impact of their work. Moonbox's partner for this production is YOUTHDESIGN, a Boston area non-profit that seeks to prepare and empower a diverse cadre of creative urban youth to become the next generation of designers. For more information, visit youthdesign.org. For a totally enjoyable night at the theater, don't miss these five shows for the price of one.

Photo credit: Sharman Altshuler (Front: Allison Russell, Julianne Daly, Caroline Lellouche; Back: Matthew Kossack, Phil Tayler, Nicholas Davis, and Andrew Winans)



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From This Author Nancy Grossman