The Musical Of Musicals: The Musical! Sound Theatre, Swiss Centre, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Some satires are eviscerating, some are affectionate tributes and some are just name-checks with pretensions. Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart's show, which ran for 10 months off Broadway, is of the last kind.

Its intended audience is not simply fans of musicals, but those who chuckle at a quotation and shriek at a paraphrase. In five sketches, a simple plot ("I can't pay the rent"; "You must pay the rent"; "I'll pay the rent") is dramatised in a patchwork of snippets from the shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman, Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, with mood and milieu suited to the songwriter.

Sondheim's landlord is a frustrated artist who makes throat-slashing gestures with a palette knife; Herman's an easygoing type who forgets about the rent when he discovers mascara. The nearest approach to wit is two lovers in a through-sung Lloyd Webber show lamenting, "We never talk any more." And it seems a tad late to be pointing out that Oklahoma! is corny or Sondheim arch, especially if you don't balk at jokes that were stale before one of your actors was born. With some smut, this might qualify as low camp, but the treatment here is so family-friendly, it's as sterile as it is puerile.

Julian Woolford's production, however, has a cast who work like demons and sing like angels. Susannah Fellows, the embodiment of mature charm or devilry, swanks grandly as an aged Lloyd Webber prima donna and growls as a Weimar-era crone. Despite having to play a character called Big Willy (who longs for a little son named after him), Ian McLarnon is an attractive, mellow-voiced presence. Joanna Ampil injects plenty of saucy humour into her portrayals of vulnerable innocents. But the palm goes to Geoffrey Abbott who, wound up tight and screaming at the seams, turns a nonsensical come-to-the-cabaret number into an insane catalogue aria of nameless lewd fancies.

As well as having to rise above an uninspiring script, the poor actors must spend the entire show in doleful black. Would a feather boa or gingham apron really break the budget?

To 22 April ( www.musicalofmusicals.com)

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