Arts & Events

Eye from the Aisle: THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS at Masquers is 5-STARS!

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday June 14, 2011 - 10:15:00 PM
Craig Eychner, Ted V. Bigornia, Shauna Shoptaw, Sophia Rose Morris
Jerry Telfer
Craig Eychner, Ted V. Bigornia, Shauna Shoptaw, Sophia Rose Morris

If you know and love musicals and have not seen THE MUSICAL OF MUSICALS (The Musical), stop reading right now and click on the website to order tickets for the little theatre in Point Richmond. This is a 5-star production, it’s an 88 seat theatre, and they will sell out to SRO in a trice. 

If you don’t particularly know or like musicals, don’t go anywhere near it. It would be like seeing “Play it Again, Sam” without knowing about “Casablanca.”  

It is the Parody of Parodies, and the weight of directing is carried strongly by Arthur Atlas.  

Four singers, a piano player, and a choreographer—all truly talented—make for the quickest 50-minute first act I’ve ever seen; when you’re that absorbed and laughing heartily, time flies. It’s a laugh every other line as they send up everything from “Oklahoma” to “Cabaret,” from ”Sweeney Todd” to “Phantom,” from “Mame” to “Sunset Boulevard,” and more.  

The brilliant, funny authors Eric Rockwell (music) and Joanne Bogart (lyrics) pick on the Big 5: Rodgers & Hammerstein in a segment called “Corn”; Sondheim with “A Little Complex“—about an urban apartment complex whose landlord is a mad painter who kills his tenants; Kander & Ebb as “Speakeasy,” Jerry Hermann, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

When it opened in New York in 2003, it was nominated for many Drama Desk Awards, and the NY Times critics praised it with “Real Wit, real charm,” and “Hits the target with sophicated affection.” I am often critical of the critics, but, for my sensibilities, they were muted in their praise. If you like satire and are a musical theatre buff, this is a “must see.” 

The premise and through-line is “I can’t pay the rent!” “You must pay the rent!” “I’ll pay the rent!”melodrama routine. The characters all have the same names or variations of them throughout, and much of the humor feeds off “callbacks”—which is “a comedy term for a joke that refers back to another joke performed earlier in the show, often presented in a different context.”* 

Kris Bell’s choreography is a delight that never repeats itself and captures the moves of all the different styles of musicals they are lampooning. Her steps, shuffles, promenades and pirouettes give the play life, put the players into character while challenging them to keep up, and make the four talents sweat to our visual delight. 

Ted V. Bigornia, who seems an incarnation of Joel Grey with a resonant and charming baritone, plays the Landlord “Jitter,” and is a spry MC—and ubiquitous landlord-- for the proceedings.  

It’s important to be able to discern the clever lyrics in a musical by way of the singers’ precise articulation. In a parody the ability to make out the words is of much higher importance, and these four sing as if they are one voice thanks to lots of practice, and the musical co-direction of Pat King, mainstay of Masquers musicals, and Bigornia. And many of the giggles come from the tongue twisters of Sondheim, et. al., and I caught every syllable from the fourth row. 

Mark Ferreira provides the music with his professional piano accompaniment onstage and behind the singers, which means that the singers go without a conductor or any visual cues, doubling the difficulty, but they stay in synch, much to their mutual credit. 

Super-talented ingénue Sophia Rose Morris has a voice that must go through three and half octaves with the same power, precision, and sonic loveliness. She convincingly changes character on a dime, from a Brooklyn neurotic to a Sally Bowles Brit, from a Sooner hayseed to an Argentine diva, and throws libido-stirring moves into the mix. She plays “June” (or, Jeune, or--when it comes to Webber—Junita, etc.). 

Craig Eychner is “Willy,” the fair-haired boy, the Curly, the hero, the pal, has a strong belt (all the singers really fill up the house with sound without the need for amplification), and brings down the house in the Cabaret-send up of the Michael York/Clifford role of Sally’s lover-roommate in “Color Me Gay.” 

Shauna Shoptaw’s mezzo and comic sensibility shines as “Abby” as in Auntie Eller, er Abby in Oklahoma Mother Abby (Sound of Music) , Auntie Abby (Mame), and Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard. She had a little trouble with the extended end-notes the night I saw it, but her voice is strong and just right for the role. 

Point Richmond is safe, it’s about 15 minutes from Berkeley/Oakland, their Park Place address is a quaint little oasis of shops, restaurants, and taverns with entertainment, there is always parking, the Masquers are a very welcoming crew, and the cookies here are very good, too. 

So it’s a good month for the two oldest community theaters around here (see my review of Altarena’s “Moonlight and Magnolias”). Get out of the house, away from the 50”, live a little, and laugh a lot—it’s worth the hassle, and tickling the risibilities relieves stress and maybe cures cancer.  


Music by Eric Rockwell, lyrics by Joanne Bogart, book by both. 

Playing Fridays & Saturdays through July 9 (with Sun Mats June 19 & 26) 

at the Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Point Richmond or (510) 232-4031 

Directed by Arthur Atlas, musical co-direction by Pat King and Ted V. Bigornia, choreography by Kris Bell, costume design by Marjorie Moore, set design by John Hull, lighting design by Renee Echavez, sound design by Joseph Ponder, lighting and sound techs Mary Kidwell and Nancy Benson; photography by Adam Telfer; stage management by Marti Baer. 

WITH: Ted V. Bigornia, Craig Eychner, Sophia Rose Morris, Shauna Shoptaw 

Pianist: Mark Ferreira 

*If you are interested in the terms that comedians use, check out this website:


John McMullen is a member of SFBATCC and ATCA. EJ Dunne edits.