Taking on the job of directing one musical is daunting enough, but Scott Dunsdon and Emma J Leaver, co-founders of the University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association (UMMTA), took on five. The pair are directing Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s runaway Broadway hit, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical — a show which seeks to parody five well-known musical styles. Essentially, the show is five short musicals in one, each starring the same characters, following a similar plot, and told in the distinctive style of a specific composer. As Dunsdon, explains: “It’s simultaneously a parody and an homage to the shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.”
Dunsdon, 28, co-founded the UMMTA in 2002, and since then has directed several of the Association’s productions, including Cabaret, Into The Woods and The Threepenny Opera. His proximity to the source material of The Musical of Musicals was a driving factor in deciding to put on the show as part of the Mudfest arts festival, he says: “The last show I directed was Into The Woods, and as much as I adore Stephen Sondheim’s shows, it does feel good to laugh about them too.”
Initially, it was co-director Emma J Leaver’s idea to put on the musical: “Emma suggested it as something fun to do, and I listened to the soundtrack and laughed nearly all the way through.” The project was very much a labour of love, he explains: “We always intended this to be something we were just doing for our own pleasure, and hopefully entertaining folks along the way!” Continuing in the labour of love vein, Leaver is producing the majority of the show herself.
Cramming five short stories into one show proved easier said than done, particularly when it came to set design. However, Dunsdon did not see this as an obstacle, rather more of a welcome challenge: “We needed to jump from musical to musical – and scene to scene – with great speed and minimal fuss. Also, we are presenting this show as part of a festival, so we needed to be flexible enough in design to share the venue.” Similarly, the job of casting such a demanding vocal show was easy. Dunsdon explains, “We just approached people we had worked with previously and invited them to be involved.” The cast hinges on four main characters – two female, two male – and their struggles to pay the rent, hilariously rendered in various different musical styles. This, combined with the parody technique, should guarantee that there’s something for everyone.
“I’m sure anyone who has performed in or been involved in music theatre at any level, and other music theatre enthusiasts will find it the most appealing,” Dunsdon says. “Beyond that, there’s just a fair bit of ridiculous general humour for everybody.” It is this humour which Dunsdon says will ensure the show’s appeal across a range of audiences. “While there are some groan-worthy puns thrown in, there’s also a lot of genuinely funny lyric and dialogue writing. The humour is light-hearted and playfully satirical rather than mean-spirited, which is such a joy. The way we’re directing it is a little bit slapstick and physical as well,” he explains.
The originality of the show is also a big selling point, and Dunsdon is keen to stress this: “[The show] is unique in its ability to capture a broad synthesis of a composer’s oeuvre, referending and sounding like too many of their works without being too specific in its parody… It really is very clever and even more experienced industry members will probably find they miss half of the references at first listening.”
Dunsdon’s personal pick of the five segments is the Stephen Sondheim parody, ‘A Little Complex’. “It’s probably my favourite because I have good knowledge of his works as a whole compared to the other composers and therefore appreciate the references, both lyrical and musical. The Kander and Ebb section, ‘Speakeasy’, comes a close second.”
When asked what Kander and Ebb might think if they came to see the show, Dunsdon says, “I think I’d be more worried about the liberties we’ve taken with Bob Fosse’s choreographic style!”
The Musical of Musicals: The Musical is on at Mudfest, 19-25 August 2011. Tickets: $10/$12/$15. Bookings: http://mudfest.org.au/program/musical-of-musicals-the-musical