A journalist, I troll for news daily in print, online, and on the tube. A pickup in the Times Colonist from the Province caught my eye the day after I went to see Musical of Musicals, The Musical at Ladysmith Little Theatre Thursday, April 21: Vancouver ads offer women free rent in exchange for sex, the headline read.
Hadn’t I seen that story somewhere before?
Well, yes. I’d seen it in the Fifth Scene of the Musical of Musicals, Speakeasy. Set in the hardscrabble 30s, when financial ruin torqued up desperation levels in America to an unbearable pitch, Speakeasy approached the overarching, can’t-pay-the-rent theme of Musical of Musicals with the disturbing reality that the women in the piece never paid the rent, except in kind, and only then if faux complaints about dripping faucets and squeaking floorboards couldn’t be used to put the villainous landlord Judder – who turned out to be gay – off.
Like most of the scenes in Musical of Musicals, Speakeasy is humour with dark corners – corners that might not have been accessible to many in the audience unless the unseemly truth was exposed by the lamp of probing, irreverent parody.
Don’t get me wrong. Musical of Musicals is entertaining, even fun in the moment.
Each of the scenes treats the unifying theme, “I can’t pay the rent” by parodying its own Broadway musical genre, starting with Corn (Rodgers and Hammerstein), then A Little Complex (Stephen Sondheim), Dear Abby (Jerry Herman), Aspects of Junita (Andrew Lloyd Webber), and finally Speakeasy (Kander & Ebb).
Hilarious as the scenes are, though – I found myself smiling throughout the play – you might walk away from Musical of Musicals uncomfortably aware of those dark corners in the American psyche it pokes fun at: the brain spaces that make us self-absorbed, greedy, mean, shallow, callow, desperate, cruel, insane…
In short, the play explores all the sly stratagems and emotions we come up with when the landlord bangs on our doors and we have to beg for time to make the payment. His demand is straight forward; our response is a little complex.
The Little Theatre cast does an admirable job carrying off a challenging performance: 11 actors play over 40 roles. The play features Ladysmith Little Theatre favorites Mort Paul, Bill Johnston, Elizabeth Hermann, Ann McInulty-Gogo, Rob Bradford, Kim Rogers, Alan Watt, Sharron MacLeod and Brenda Clarke and welcomed newcomers Brandon Hadley and Mike Dietrich.
Piano accompanist Mary Jackson does a terrific job enlivening the performances through a broad range of songs and genres.
Kudos to co-directors Allan Watt and Bill Johnston, and to musical director Nikita Towe. And of course to the legion of volunteers whose contributions behind the scenes make Musical of Musicals, the Musical zing.