Slice and dice enough Broadway chestnuts and something amazing happens: The resulting casserole tastes much better than the constituent ingredients.

Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart sample the works of five great writing teams, hang them on a simple core story and produce a tight, funny script that blooms under the care of the Jester Theater Company, directed by Jay Hopkins. The plot takes less than a dozen words – Villy (Todd Allen Long) saves June (Natalie Cordone) from Jitter (Kevin Kelly) while Mother Abby (Kate O'Neal) offers advice. It's a classic protagonist-antagonist-contagonist-guardian story, but with a complicated score. The more musical theater you've seen, the better this show will be, as laughs erupted at what I thought were odd moments. Perhaps I'm not as Sondheim-savvy as some, but it's not just musical funnies here; the performance makes you laugh on multiple levels.

Serious humor needs tight timing, and this crew had it down pat. Kelly was a shorn-headed Dr. Evil type, and he handled all the weird physical jokes. Cordone played all the basic heroine types – naive country girl, neurotic New Yorker, civilized sweetie, jaded woman of the world and ambiguous hooker. No matter what Cordone's slant was, it always took till the last number for clueless Long to wise up and save her. Best of all, there's a skewering of every lame plot device that musicals employ to get the big finale number.

There's more than music in a musical, and the dance elements were as funny as anything else. Choreographer Heather Delmotte took this black-draped cast far beyond the run-run-leap of traditional ballet and helped trash all the visual clichés that can only work in the Broadway environment. They even included my favorite chorus-line line: "Show 'em the hat! Show 'em the hat!" Musical director Jim Rhinehart played piano and did a little narration, but mostly he made the music feel like a real soundtrack. You have to be on your toes to follow it all, but it's an education. Jester Theater Company has done some funny stuff, but this may be the best they've ever produced. Even if you do have to fight a basketball fan for a parking space, it's worth that drive downtown.

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical
Through Saturday, March 18
Studio Theatre


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