Next week sees the opening of The Musical of Musicals in the gorgeous Studio Theatre at Above The Stag in Vauxhall. It’s one story told in five mini musicals and we asked Will Spencer, part of the creative team to tell us more.
Hi Will, last time we saw you, you were performing in Grindr: The Opera and now you’re working behind the scenes, what is your role on Musical of Musicals?
Yes that’s right, like many performers I love creating work as much as performing it, and coming from a dance background choreography is the main way I can do this. I’m assistant choreographer which can vary vastly from show to show. On Musical of Musicals, it means I help demonstrate, clean and teach the performers the work of the infinitely wise and generous Carole Todd, who is the choreographer. When she’s unable to be present, I will oversee the rehearsal of dance sections. Occasionally I’ll contribute choreographically to the work myself, such as in the Kander and Ebb section of the show just before the finale. Being assistant choreographer is a great way to learn and be creative simultaneously, honing the skill under the supervision of someone who creates the overall image of the movement.
In basic terms can you describe what Musical of Musicals is?
Musical of Musicals is a satirical series of the same story, repeated five times. Each is its own pastiche of a composer and lyricist team, but the best bit is that it’s funny in its own right, whether you’ve seen every original and revival of your favourite musical or not.
So what is the story that’s repeated?
The basic story is of a young lady struggling to pay rent to her intimidating landlord, who is then paid off by the young lady’s love interest. This timeless story becomes a framework for all five musicals, each spanning about 15 minutes. The stage directions are read aloud, and I’m even howling at the set changes, if you thought “exit pursued by a bear” was funny, this is a whole different level.
Can you talk us through the different styles of musical?
The show spans composers from both Broadway and the West End, and over 50 years of musical theatre. We open with a Rodgers and Hammerstein section which references shows such as Oklahoma and the Sound of Music, the real beginning of musicals as we know them. This is followed by a section which sends up Sondheim, aptly named “A Little Complex”. Next up is a hilarious take on Jerry Herman, serving up show tunes in the style of Hello Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles. As for the Andrew Lloyd Webber section, there are wobbling chandeliers, cheesy group numbers and more key changes than revivals of Cats. The show finishes with a musical in the style of Kander and Ebb, who brought us Chicago and Cabaret, complete with chair numbers and jail cells. We finish in the only way we know how, with hats, sequins and a kick line finale.
How does the choreography change for each part of the show?
The choreography changes to reflect the different decades in which the composers were most prolific, paying homage to the greats such as Bob Fosse and Agnes De Mille. It also means the use of props changes with this, things like bowler hats, canes and chairs that add that special theatricality, and element of risk for the audience to enjoy. The main difference for me is the use of formation on stage, each choreographer has their own sense of the bigger picture and therefore use fountains, lines and circles to create this. Fosse uses pyramids and trios, which I’ve tried to replicate in the Speakeasy, De Mille uses lots of classical steps and partner work to express solely through dance, as in the dream ballet in the first musical, Corn.
Which of the musical styles is your favourite?
My favourite? I love them all! In rehearsal I’ve really enjoyed watching Carole work with the Jerry Herman musical as she worked with Carol Channing on the West End Hello Dolly! Seeing her lovingly parody this is so wonderful. If I had to pick I would say Speakeasy is my favourite. I’ve never had the chance to work on a Fosse style piece and it’s any choreographer’s dream.
Can you tell us about the cast?
We’re really lucky to have a cast that completely understand the show styles. On top of that they have the voices to match any West End star, belting out show tune after show tune every few minutes, they’re fabulous! They all trained at Royal Academy of Music or Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, meaning they really know what they’re doing with the material. What’s nice is that each of them have their own favourite section. We have James playing Jitter, Sev playing Willy, Charlotte as June and Cecily as Abby. The chemistry and comic timing is … fabulous!