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July 17th, 2009 By Rick Pender | Arts | Posted In: Theater

Musical of Musicals: Best Showboat Show Ever

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I've been seeing theatrical productions aboard the Showboat Majestic for at least 25 years. Like the Ohio River adjacent to the "Boat" at the Public Landing, they're up and down, sometimes beautiful and sometimes a bit stinky. But I can offer you an unqualified recommendation for the current production, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical. The title itself is entertaining, but the material is even better — and then there's the cast that's been assembled. This is, in fact, a show that anyone who loves musicals needs to see. It's probably the best production I've seen on the Showboat ever. It's being performed through July 26.

Here's the deal: The show takes one simple story from old-time melodramas — The sweet ingenue can't pay the rent, but her oppressive landlord won't relent, so she seeks advice from a wise older woman and is saved at the last moment by a handsome hero — and plays it back through five different filters. Those happen to be the five best-known creators of musical theater from the past half-century: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb. Four actors play the roles, interpreted in the style of the composers and their shows, with tons of puns and lots of jokes that you'll get if you know something about musical theater — and others that you'll find funny no matter what you might recall about Oklahoma! or Hello, Dolly or The Phantom of the Opera.

The cast is top-notch: Brooke H.

Rucidlo (the ingenue) and Leslie Hitch (the older, wiser woman) are both CEA nominees for shows they did at the Showboat's sister facility, Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. (Rucidlo is recognized for Peter Pan, while Hitch was Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.) MIchael Shawn Starks, the beefy, empty-headed hero, was a CEA nominee a year ago as Satan in Jerry Springer: The Opera. And Mike Sherman, mostly playing the villain, is another Showboat/Covedale veteran who more than holds his own. The fifth member of the ensemble is musical director Mark Femia, onstage as the piano player and narrator — who even gets engaged in a bit of choreography for the finale. As good as each performer is individually, they really shine as an ensemble, supporting one another, taking on quick-change roles and vamping to the crazy string of allusions and verbal jokes that fuel this show. Credit director Dennis Murphy for keeping the wild energy of his performers headed in the same direction and always inventive with regard to poking fun at the source material.

The Showboat is often challenged by its tiny stage, but it's perfect for this show, which is driven by downsized versions of the musicals that are parodied. The back wall has several clever lighting patterns that provide enough scenic suggestion to spark the imagination. "Corn" (the Rodgers & Hammerstein takeoff) has a few clouds, while "Aspects of Junita" (the Lloyd Webber parody) offers some theater ornamentation, augmented by a tiny "falling" chandelier. My own affection for Stephen Sondheim was pleased with "A Little Complex," set in "The Woods," a bizarre apartment complex where doorbells ring like the bone-jarring factory whistle from Sweeney Todd.  

This one is good enough to see more than once: The jokes fly fast and furious, and you might need a second trip to catch them all. But at the very least, one trip to the Public Landing for The Musical of Musicals will be worth your time this weekend or next. The box office number is 513-241-6550.

(Photo: Tim Perrino)

 
 
 
 
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