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Musicals x 3

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Summer may be known as the season of the Hollywood Blockbuster, but summer is also the prime moneymaking time for Broadway blockbusters as well.

It may be hard to imagine, but last week the producers of one Broadway show had box office grosses that topped the weekend take of the new Star Wars movie.

That Broadway show is called Wicked, a musical riff on The Wizard of Oz characters that's been playing to sold out audiences since October of 2003.

Last month, the touring production of Wicked set up shop here in Los Angeles and has proved just as popular.

The big question is, provided you can get a ticket, is Wicked worth it? The answer depends on just how much you like or love musical theater. If you like musicals, then without a doubt, you'll have a good time at Wicked. And if you love musicals, I mean love them, sing-showtunes in the shower, own the American and London cast album, love musicals, then you'll probably be, well, a little disappointed.

That's because Wicked, in the fine tradition of Hello, Dolly!, Phantom of the Opera, and lots of other hit shows, is a bit of a mess. The story doesn't always make sense, the characters are often quite flimsy and there's an overall sense that things just aren't working. But like those successful shows, Wicked has a few catchy tunes and a clever--and marketable--concept...and often with musicals this matters more than genuine quality.

The good news for Angelenos is that this touring production of Wicked does give you your money's worth. The cast is quite strong and the spectacle of the Broadway show--witches flying, gears spinning, and lots of smoke and other effects--is faithfully recreated here at the Pantages Theatre.

What's interesting is that Wicked continues to be a huge success--despite the fact that it didn't win the Tony last year (even though going into the awards everyone considered it the favorite). Many people think this is because the Broadway community felt that that Wicked just wasn't quite up to snuff quality-wise.

But compared to this year's Tony Award winning musical, the Monty Python adaptation Spamalot, Wicked seems pretty solid. Sure, Spamalot is fun...and it's a bona fide summer Blockbuster--as Playbill reports that it's playing to 101.8% capacity crowds--but the show is less a real musical and more of sing-a-long to the funny numbers from the Holy Grail soundtrack.

The one exception is the number, -The Song that Goes Like This,- a perfect parody of an Andrew Lloyd Webber ballad that is Spamalot's Act I showstopper. It's a funny song, but frankly it says alot about Spamalot that it's best number is a parody of another show's song. (In this way Spamalot is sort of the musical for people who really don't like musicals.)

Sure it's clever, but -The Song That Goes Like This- is not that different than the type of thing that revues like Forbidden Broadway have been doing for years.

For you musical fans who don't want to travel to New York and wait in line for Spamalot tickets, you can go to Laguna Beach and hear an Andrew Lloyd Webber parody song that's just as good as -The Song That Goes Like This.- Last week marked the West Coast Premiere of the Off-Broadway hit, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical! a dizzy exercise in Broadway parody that features the number -I've Heard That Song Before---which one suspects the Spamalot people listened to rather closely when composing -The Song That Goes Like This.-

Musical of Musical is actually one musical told five different times, each time in the musical idiom of a different Broadway composer. It's not great theater, but it is good corny fun.

So if Wicked is the show for people who like musicals, Spamalot the show for people who don't like musicals, Musical of Musicals is, as the title indicates, the show for people who don't just love musicals, but who live for musicals.

Musical of Musicals: the Musical! runs through September 4 at the Laguna Playhouse. Spamalot continues its open ended run at the Schubert Theater in New York City. And Wicked runs through July 31 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.

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