MOM:TM plays out like an improv comedy game. Four core characters— the boy, the girl, a wise older woman, and a greedy landlord— tell one simple story five different ways in the style of composers Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander & Ebb. The plot distilled: “I can’t pay the rent”/”But you must pay the rent.” (Rent, get it?) And that’s just about all there is to that.
Daniel Kopera’s all purpose pink and purple set telegraphs instantly that the audience is in for a bare bones theatrical drenched in cheap sparkly stuff. The strong ensemble cast, dressed all in black with sequins and rhinestones, fulfill every garish promise.
Musical of Musicals is a perfect showcase for Jude Knight, a veteran of the musical stage who has appeared in many of the show’s she’s spoofing. She brings fun understatement to an over-the-top ensemble. Amy (Polumbo) Nabors gives a standout performance as the all purpose blonde, matching fantastic singing with hilarious character development. Multiple threat performer Brennan Villines is always a pleasure in song and dance roles, but nothing beats the joy of watching Kent Fleshman try his hand at spoofing the Emcee from Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret. This isn’t the sort of role a beefy baritone like Fleshmen would ever have the chance to play otherwise and he just goes for it.
The real star of this ensemble show show is just off stage: musical director/accompanist Gary Beard who has been given all the show’s secret laugh lines, and who nails every single one.
Over the years director Bennett Wood has staged many a classy musical revue and there are moments when one gets the sense that he’s spoofing himself as much as anybody else.
I don't want to encourage bad habits, but a few cocktails before showtime isn't a bad idea. This is a lounge act disguised as theater. Or maybe it's the other way around.
Musical of Musicals: The Musical is at Theatre Memphis through November 23
"This year, I wanted to do something a little different," says Courtney Oliver, Playhouse's multiple-threat performer and resident party planner. Oliver, who directed last season's production of Debbie Does Dallas and most recently appeared onstage as Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables, thought a Carnival Noir might shake things up a bit.
"I had just read Erin Morgenstern's novel The Night Circus, and the mystery of a black-and-white circus arriving in town unannounced at midnight really awoke the romantic in me."
Oliver set out to create an environment similar to "Sleep No More," an audience-immersive, site-specific retelling of Macbeth set on five floors of an art-directed New York warehouse space.
"People who support Playhouse on the Square enjoy the theatrics we provide, obviously," Oliver says. "I thought, Why not throw some theatrics back into ours?"
Oliver describes a scene with wandering magicians and carnival treats. Renee Kemper's bluegrass band Nay-Nay and the Do-Right Boys play in the cafe with Ghost River beer and sliders from Wade and Company Catering. The theatrical band Black Max plays the basement trap room. There will be poker games, penny pitching, and speakeasy-style drinks. Then you can get a henna tattoo, with no regrets. Alexis Grace is playing a set, then the Memphis Knights, an 18-piece big band, will close the show with music from the 1930s.
Black-and-white outfits are encouraged.
"Curtain Up: Carnival Noir" at Playhouse on the Square, Friday, November 8th, 7-11 p.m. playhouseonthesquare.org
Jay and the Americans were a vocal group from Long Island. In 1960 Leiber and Stoller— the songwriting duo behind some of Elvis Presley's biggest hits— signed the group for United Artists and gave them "Tonight," from West Side Story, which had just been released as a motion picture. Talk about a perfect match.
20-years after Jay and the Americans recorded "Tonight" it was covered (and pretty fantastically) by British punk/pop band The Look. The best part is a too brief keyboard solo that calls to mind "Telstar."
This noisy and frenetic version of "Officer Krupke" is from the album Punk Side Story by a band called Schlong. Yep, that's their name.
The Muppets version of "America" celebrates the beauty and the chaos of life in the melting pot.
Selena's take on "A Boy Like That," seriously threatens to give club covers a good name.
"Somewhere" is easily West Side Story's most covered song. It has been sent up by DEVO...
It has been tinkered with by Dave Brubeck...
And it has been achingly covered by Tom Waits on his great 1978 album Blue Valentine.
And if you'd like a sample of what the current touring company has to offer, there's also this...
If you have a favorite cover from WSS that I've left out share it with us in comments.