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Review: The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) at Hope Street Theatre ****

You don’t have to have a working knowledge to enjoy this swift and sly celebration of musical theatre – but there’s no doubt it helps.

Writers Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart certainly show their Mastermind-like mastery of the genre in a piece of theatre which segues from one classic style to another through 100 minutes of tuneful and crafty parody.

This is Laffan Productions’ debut show, and its founder Sharon Byatt has certainly revealed her ambitions – Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) may be a series of revue-style sketches but it’s also not without its challenges.

The five-strong cast is happily dextrous enough to meet them, slipping in and out of costumes, musical personas and variations of character from one vignette to the next.

Rockwell and Bogart’s central plot essentially remains the same – youthful ingenue June (Tori Hargreaves) can’t pay her rent to her villainous landlord Jitter (John-Paul Birss).

Will her boyfriend/admirer Willy (Dominic Treacy) come to her rescue? And what good advice will her older friend/neighbour Abby (Eithne Browne) be able to offer?

The excellent and very watchable Amy Leek acts, meanwhile, acts as a narrator and fifth character in the succession of mini musical melodramas: Corn! (parodying Rodgers and Hammerstein), A Little Complex (Stephen Sondheim), Dear Abby (Jerry Herman musicals like Hello Dolly and La Cage Aux Folles), Aspects of Juanita (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Speakeasy – plunging into the gritty world of Kander and Ebb.

It's all hugely enjoyable – from Eithne Browne’s screeching nun and faded Norma Desmond to Hargreaves’ bird obsessed tenant and Dominic Treacy’s happy-go-lucky Big Willy who is torn between life on a Kansas farm and running away to the circus.

Birss seizes his varied villainous personas with glee, including a murderous Sweeney Todd-style artist, a Kit Kat Klub-style MC and a smooth-talking, masked ‘Sir Phantom Jitter’.

While the writers clearly love musical theatre, some of the lampooning is decidedly tart – particularly in the sung-through Aspects of Juanita where the titular would-be star sings ‘every month it’s the same old tune, I’ve heard that song before’ and Sir Phantom asks ‘do you know opera? Then yes, I wrote it myself’. Ouch!

Musical director Jordan Alexander is a star on the keyboards, moving effortlessly from one style to the next and providing segueing incidental music as the cast make speedy costume changes.

One note however. The Hope Street Theatre is a compact studio space, so when the entire (mic-ed up) ensemble of big voices is belting out show tunes together the amplification can be a little brutal.

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