The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) at Bridewell Theatre is a whistle-stop tour of the works of five of the great composers of the musical theatre world. The latest SEDOS production, directed by Emma J Leaver, pays tribute to many much-loved characters from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd to Kander and Ebb‘s The Emcee whilst lovingly mocking the contrasting ways in which the show’s simple plot would be shaped and interpreted by each of the composers in their unique style.
On the surface, the plot of The Musical of Musicals is incredibly straight forward. We are introduced to young June (Laura Ellis) and her landlord Jitter (Daniel Saunders) in what leads to a struggle over unpaid rent which is resolved by her very own leading man Billy (Joe Dickens). A loving nod there to the musicals, Carousel and Rent.
At first glance, the staging is minimal. It consists only of a small stage area and two metal ladders, however, this worked well for the show. The rapid changes between such varying musical styles mean having one or more elaborate sets would have only been a hindrance both for the performer and audiences. Instead, the simple set accompanied by a small selection of symbolic props from each musical (from baskets of corn to a vintage 1930’s microphone) successfully set the scene regardless of whether we are transported to rural Kansas or a New York apartment complex and everything in between. Lighting enhanced this further, particularly during ‘Colour Me Gay’ and ‘Just Don’t Pay’ where a prison setting was created with lights to make the shape of prison bars and the stage was also engulfed in a red glow to replicate the dark sensual nightlife atmosphere as seen in Kander and Ebb’s Broadway staple, Cabaret.
As well as this, at the start of each mini-musical, a medley of songs in the musical style teased the awaiting audience for what was to come and worked as a bridge between the scenes. Attention to detail was an essential part of the success of this production. Every
aspect felt authentic and enabled the audience to become enthralled by each musical respectively. As a result, it felt exciting, a show of many colours if you will, almost like improv or a workshop with every musical feeling fresh and leaving the audience eager to see how June’s story would be told next.
Perhaps the best thing about this production is the cast themselves. It is a mean feat to be able to play the same character in five different musical styles. Take Jitter the landlord, for example, he goes from playing a southern story-book style exaggerated villain in ‘Corn’, to a tortured soul with a need for revenge as a play on Sondheim’s notorious Sweeney Todd. Another cast member that sticks out is an ensemble cast member, Alex Yelland. His facial expressions are captivating, and he fully commits himself to every scene he is in. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
In the West End and Broadway, musical revivals and celebrity casting are becoming the big-ticket and there is often a real lack of creativity and newness. The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) however provides light relief and is a real homage to all that has gone before whilst also feeling new and fresh. The result is a real spectacle that celebrates musical theatre while making fun of it in a satirical show that is a must-see for any musical theatre fan.