Theater Review: The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)

Photo by Alan Theisen

Part parody, part homage to the classic Broadway Musical, The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) is just as goofy as its title suggests. The show continues its run at Asheville Community Theatre’s 35below space through Sunday, Jan. 22.

Director Misty Theisen has assembled a group of talented performers to present this trope: A young woman is being threatened by a dastardly villainous landlord. She can not pay her rent and all hope is lost as the villain looms large over her life. A hero must overcome obstacles to rescue her. Now for the twist: They will perform this simple scenario a total of five times, each time taking on a different and distinct style of musical theater.

Act one commences with a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein vibe, with shades of Oklahoma! leading the way while other bits and pieces of familiar shows like The King And I, Sound of Music and Carousel are slyly woven into it. Once the story resolves and the hero prevails, scene two begins. This time, there’s a Stephen Sondheim flavor. Sweeny Todd, Company and Into The Woods are given clever reworkings within the established premise. Act one ends with an homage to Jerry Herman shows like Mame and Hello Dolly.

The approach is one that takes a few minutes to settle into. It is peculiar. But once the audience relaxes and realizes that this is all in fun, the laughs come more easily. Act two accelerates the over-the-top antics, kicking off with Andrew Lloyd Webber-fueled lunacy, complete with a Phantom of The Opera spoof that fully descends into Cats. Once the Cats reveal happened, one woman in the front row got a contagious case of the giggles, and kept “meowing” and laughing for minutes following the scene. Act two ends with a glitzy and decadent Kander and Ebb Cabaret climax.

The show sometimes feels like vaudeville and other times feels like the Naked Gun movies due to the absurd humor. The young girl is swept up by the villain, and she screams for him to put her down. Without missing a beat, he unleashes a sting of insults — not the kind of put down she was after.

A show like this requires a deft touch to keep it balanced between mockery and parody. Theisen (also the production’s producer and pianist) found the right balance in her approach, and she brought in some top local vocalist, who are up to the challenge of the musical workout required. Strother Stingley is the hero, while his real life partner Tabitha Judy is the young damsel in perpetual distress. Daniel Hensley is the mustache-twirling villain and Karen Covington-Yow is the supportive and matronly sage who helps keep the storyline moving forward.

The show is sparse in the 35Below space — there are no large sets or elaborate scene changes. It is simply four performers, four chairs, with a few wardrobe pieces and wigs. The energy exchange between performers and patrons is immediate and infectious.Those with a deeper-than-passing knowledge of musical theater over the past 60- plus years might better appreciate some of the comedy, but it is not required. The humor still works for even a Broadway neophyte.

Note: Several performances are already sold out, so advance tickets are strongly suggested.

WHAT: The Musical of Musicals, The Musical
WHERE: 35below, 35 Walnut Street,
WHEN: Through Sunday, Jan. 22. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m.. $20


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.