The only drawback to Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "The Musical of Musicals" -- and it's not a drawback to many of us -- is that you really have to know musicals to appreciate this one.
The off-Broadway show is an alternately affectionate and vicious salute to the Great White Way, often brilliantly written, performed and directed. But I noticed that while maybe half the opening-night audience seemed to be appreciating every joke, a good portion sat there stone faced. It's likely the script will seem nonsensical to those who don't get what the show is mocking.
Music/lyric/book writers Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart have done a dangerous thing by taking five of our best-known composers and/or lyricists -- Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb -- and writing their own score in the style of each.
We begin with actor Aaron Marcotte crooning, "Oh what beautiful corn/Oh what beautiful, beautiful corn/The wind whispers secrets, the field is all ears/Oh, what beautiful corn." Rodgers and Hammerstein would have been proud.
We segue into the world of Sondheim, where the cast announces a new atmosphere of "Irony. Ambiguity. Dissonance. Angst." The wunderkind of modern musical theater has never sounded so silly.
By the time we get to Lloyd Webber, we're getting below-the-belt jokes:
Phantom (Thomas Tobin): "You will sing something I wrote myself."
Christine (Melody Wilson): "You wrote it yourself?"
Phantom: "Do you know opera?"
Phantom: "Yes, I wrote it myself."
Director Josh Penzell (with great help from scenic designer Rachel Zimmerman) creates a cabaretlike setting, and he and the four major members of the cast -- Marcotte (leading man/sometimes woman), Loraine (character actress), Tobin (character actor) and Melody Wilson (ingenue) -- key into the humor beautifully. They don't cheat on the vocal, acting and movement chops needed for these often difficult works.
Penzell, choreographer Rachelle Tylo and musical director Christopher Lash keep the pacing at such a consistently and pleasantly high-pitched level, there's not a single down moment. The selection and staging of the final number is a welcomed surprise.
My one regret: The day after seeing this production, I tried to listen to the music of the spoofed composers. I couldn't do it. I couldn't even get into "Sweeney Todd" without laughing at all the angst. I hope this condition will not be permanent.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.