There is a bit of wisdom floating around that says it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself.
Anyone who has ever seen a musical, or been in one, or written one, or who has been forced to listen to someone else yak on and on about “Cats” will find much to laugh at with “The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!).”
“It’s a parody of great musicals,” says director Bennett Wood. The story that runs throughout is that of the ingénue who can’t pay the rent and is saved by the hero. That story is presented five different ways as if told by five of the best known creators of musicals: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.
“There is enough broadly known material in the show that the average theatergoer gets a kick out of it,” Wood says. “For real musical aficionados, there are all kinds of goodies in it, and everyone comes out having a good time.”
As happens with lively parodies, the humor is both sophomoric and very sophisticated. “There are groaner puns,” Wood says, “and they always get a laugh. But the sophisticated humor comes from, for example, appropriating Sondheim’s style and brilliantly making it work.”
The Sondheim segment is a mashup of “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George.” As Wood says, “There’s a crazy artist who kisses people and tries to turn their bodies into works of art.” Meanwhile, Rodgers and Hammerstein is skewered with a combination of “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” called “Corn!”
The Lloyd Webber segment has the sharpest edge, Wood says. “They talk about the fact that many people have accused Lloyd Webber of stealing music,” Wood says. He was famously sued by the estate of composer Giacomo Puccini for plagiarism and the case was settled out of court — but that doesn’t stop the musical from getting its digs in.
The four actors who play the various parts are all accomplished stage veterans. “Kent Fleshman is the villain in all the acts,” Wood says, “so he gets to be the Phantom and Sweeney Todd.”
Jude Knight stars as the older woman and gets juicy moments in the Jerry Herman segment about show business, playing a combination of the title characters in “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame.”
Playing the younger female roles is Amy Polumbo Nabors, who impressed in “Legally Blonde” last year. “She’s a knockout in this,” Wood says. “She has a great voice and is a very funny actress.”
The young man is played by Brennan Villines (Conrad Birdie in “Bye, Bye Birdie” two years ago). “He’s a working musician,” Wood says. “He’s very bright and charming, which is what you need along with his good voice and ability to dance well.”
Choreographing is Ostrander Award winner Pam Hurley, and music direction is by Ostrander winner Gary Beard.
It’s a lot of talent and it’s all focused on keeping the audience amused.
“There’s enough obvious humor that anyone with the merest knowledge will pick it up,” Wood promises. “It has no great import, but it’s great fun.”
“The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)”
Theatre Memphis on the Next Stage, 630 Perkins Ext.
Through Nov. 23 (Another run is scheduled Jan. 10-19, 2014)
Show times: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $30; $15 students
For info: 901-682-8323 and theatrememphis.org