A smorgasbord of ‘Musical’ stylings
Literary observers insist only seven story lines are used in every book, movie or play ever written. Minot State University’s first summer theater offering would seem to limit the possibilities even more. “The Musical of Musicals,” which opens Friday, shows a choice of delightful ways to dish up the old melodrama premise: The evil landlord threatens the heroine with eviction – or worse – unless the handsome hero saves her.
Director Carlen Gilseth and his cast act out the timeless story in several different styles, using the musical riches of five well-known British and American masters of theater. Music and acting styles are parodies of the works of the best: Rodgers and Hammerstein (think “Sound of Music” and “Carousel”); Stephen Sondheim, known for “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”; and Jerry Herman, who is famed for “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly.”
The second half of “Musical” reprises Andrew Lloyd Webber, famed for “Cats” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”; and concludes with work in the style of John Kander and Fred Ebb, celebrated for “Chicago” and “Cabaret.”
“The Musical of Musicals,” which runs through Wednesday at the MSU Amphitheater, opens with a number in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The director credits authors Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell for their hugely entertaining homage to theater greats through the song and dance repeated around a common theme.
”Audiences who are fans of musicals will find the references to great shows to ‘Carousel’ or ‘Cats’ are very clear,” Gilseth said, “but even those who are not familiar will find this show wonderful. Everyone can enjoy ‘Musical.'”
“In the original version, performed off-Broadway in 2003 and repeated there in 2005, just four actors played all the parts,” Gilseth said. “We will have different actors, a couple in more than one act. In ‘Corn!’ the opener, Zach Lee plays the landlord Big Willie, Emily Taylor is the girl, Daniel Johnson plays her romantic interest and Marcy Witteman is Mother Abby, the wise matron.”
“This version, which is entitled ‘Corn!’ is set in Kansas,” Gilseth said, “and it is complete with a dream ballet, a la ‘Oklahoma.'”
The Sondheim-reminiscent act, “A Little Complex,” features Brett Olson as Jitter, Emily Wirkus as Jeune, Joe Bussey as Billie and Kayla Boys as Abby. Set in a New York apartment complex of neurotics, Jitter plays a landlord who is a mad artist plotting to murder his tenants, who include the composer, Billy, and the pessimistic alcoholic Abby.
Aili Smith plays the unconventional Manhattan socialite Auntie Abby in “Dear Abby,” the concluding act for the first half. She is matchmaking for her nephew William, played by Joe Bussey, and her geeky friend Juney-Fae, played by Brittany Armstrong. Abby also works to convince landlord Mr. Jitters, played by Tim Rosin, to become a drag queen, and hilarity ensues.
“Aspects of Junita” showcases Courtney Johnson as Junita in a rock musical version to begin the second half of the evening. Brett Olson plays Bill, Daniel Johnson is Phantom Jitter and Marcy Witteman performs as Abigail Von Schtarr. This view of life shows an untalented Junita determined to become a star to pay the rent.
“Speakeasy,” the concluding act, is set in a Chicago nightspot in the 1930s. Jason Gaarder performs as Jutter with Maddie Thompson as Juny, J’Kobe Wallace as Villy and Kena Davidson as Fraulein Abby.
Each act concludes with a splashy finale. “Done,” the final number in “Musical,” is reminiscent of “One,” the finale of “A Chorus Line.” The entire case is involved, including ensemble players Cole Anderson, Brittany Knickerbocker, Amanda Kraft and Chris Pitner.
Gilseth praised his musical support, pianist and music director Briana Schwan and choreographer Connie Sue Gilseth. Krys Zorbaugh is stage manager and Hannah Davis assistant stage manager.
Gilseth said, amid the confusion of wildly varied sets and musical styles, he has chosen simplicity for costuming, basic black with accessories.
Tickets for the show, which starts at 8:30 p.m., are $10 for deck seats, $8 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $5 for those 12 and younger, and $3 for MSU faculty, staff and summer students. Northern Tier Credit Union military night, Friday, has price breaks for military families. For reservations and information, call 858-3228.