Frank Loesser didn't make the cut. "So universal, he was hard to parody." Lerner & Loewe didn't make the cut. "So similar to Rodgers & Hammerstein." Nor did Kurt Weill. "Had to compete with Kander & Ebb." Cole Porter and many others didn't make the cut.
The people who made the cut — "the Mount Rushmore of musical-theatre composers and lyricists," Rockwell and Bogart call them — are Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kander & Ebb. Rockwell and Bogart are Eric Rockwell, composer, and Joanne Bogart, lyricist (book writers both), and the parade of parodies they've woven together, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, was such an Off-Broadway smash twice already that it's back among us for the third time.
"We're calling this the re-re-re-opening," says Rockwell of the show at Dodger Stages that begins R&H-wise: "Oh, what beautiful corn/What beautiful, beautiful corn/The wind whispers secrets, the field is all ears/Oh, what beautiful corn!" Lyricist Bogart plays and sings various aunts and frauleins all named Abby; composer Rockwell, at the piano, sings and plays various heavies demanding the rent — or, alternatively, her fair body — from a young woman variously named June, Junie or Juanita, all played and sung by Lovette George; and Craig Fols plays and sings the big dumb hayseed(s) whose devotion saves the hapless ingenue from a fate worse than rent or death.
Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, who live together ("a middle-aged Will and Grace"), have been friends ever since they did summer stock at North Conway, New Hampshire, in 1987. He's from Lake Tahoe, and grew up in his parents' hotel business. She's from Queens, the daughter of a cop, her mother a secretary. Rockwell went to Cal State and came to New York to be a stand-up comic in 1983. Bogart went to Queens College, studied voice and headed into acting. "I was writing material for my stand-up," says he, "when Joanne said, 'Why don't you write a show for me?' I said, 'You're very funny, why don't you write it yourself?' So she did."
He was already a member of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, started by the late Lehman Engel; she joined it forthwith, writing and performing an audition song à la Rodgers & Hammerstein: "Walk on through the wind and trudge through the rain/Though your hair's all blown and you look insane/And your eye makeup's running and your nose is red/The hills are alive but you're half-dead!/Follow your dream!/Chin up! Belly high!"
"The whole show really came out of that one song," says he. "Then we were on our way," says she. The BMI Workshop became a testing ground like the out-of-town Broadway tryouts of yore. They were a huge York Theatre hit in 2003 and 2004. One last question: Have you chaps always been able to pay the rent? "Yes," says he. "As an actor, over all these years, a little dicey," says she. "But I always came through." Belly high!