By Iris Wiener
“We have fun here,” sings the ever-jovial Michael Scott at the opening of The Office! A Musical Parody, now playing at The Theater Center. No lyrics could be more appropriate, as Bob and Tobly McSmith’s latest parody of a pop culture phenomenon is a stupendously good time from start to finish, much like the sitcom it lovingly teases. The references to the quirks, aphorisms, and blatant shenanigans of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s employees are never-ending and chock-full of treats for diehard fans, while still light-hearted fun for less-invested Office admirers.
Covering nine seasons in less than two hours may seem like a tough feat, but in the hands of the comic masterminds that are the McSmith team, it’s executed as a clever coup. From the moment the never-seen/always felt camera crew arrives at the office, the musical is a whirlwind of Michael Scott’s (Sarah Mackenzie Baron) inappropriate workplace humor and uncomfortable banter, coupled with the nuances of Jim (Tom McGovern) and Pam’s (Taylor Coriell) adorable will they/won’t they courtship and Dwight’s (Michael Santora) petulant antics. Every favorite oddball makes an appearance, including elusive criminal Creed and depressive HR rep Toby (Bob McSmith), ditzy fashion-plate Kelly and office transfer Karen (Ani Djirdjirian), dopey Kevin, trashy Meredith and spinster Phyllis (Rebecca Mason- Wygal), and excruciatingly uptight, droll Angela (Katie Johantgen). (P.S. Even Stanley makes a few appearances, as bass player Kevin Harris occasionally takes a few breaks from the band to pout over cancelled Pretzel Day.)
This phenomenal roster of comedic actors do not simply send-up the characters they embody- they complement them, making their most endearing, memorable traits pop with hilarity. Baron’s big eyes and wild expression are utter perfection as she takes on Michael’s desperation to be the world’s best boss, as well as his hysterically brazen attempts to keep secrets. Scene-stealer McGovern is uncanny as anger-challenged Andy, whose banjo number “You’re the White One for Me” is as uproarious as it is clever. (It is wonderfully ironic that he states, “I am Andrew Bernard and I am here to ruin this show”- in this musical he does quite the opposite.) Coriell has Pam’s subtle sheepishness and small smile finely honed, while Johantgen is brilliantly swift in portraying Angela’s methodical, obsessive cat mom, as well as a slew of other eccentric individuals. Don’t miss her role as Jan in the entire number dedicated to the infamously passive aggressive candle party hosted by the office’s ex-boss and her strange bedfellow Michael.
Many of the best McSmith gags from previous projects (Bayside! The Saved by the Bell Musical, Full House! The Musical, Friends! The Musical) carry on into The Office!, such as foregoing character names Kelly and Jo Bennett and replacing them with their actor names, Mindy Kaling and Kathy Bates, respectively. (After all, that is how fans refer to the characters anyway). Almost all of the actors take on multiple roles (one even transforms seamlessly in seven seconds). Pop culture references deservedly get big laughs. Ellie Kemper, who famously went on to find fame with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt after her stint as ditzy secretary Erin on The Office, makes her entrance to the Netflix hit’s theme song (not to mention that she is sporting Kimmy’s signature backpack and bright colors as well). Jan tells Jim that he looks like a “sexy little Jack Ryan,” a la his own post-Office television role.
Director and choreographer Donald Garverick handles the unique challenges of the wildly energetic piece with creativity and captivating flair. In short asides, characters look out at their audience instead of at cameras. Every bit of space on Josh Iacovelli’s intricate, thoughtful sets is used to great pleasure and effectiveness. Assaf Gleizner, the mega-talented musician behind the memorable tunes from prior McSmith hits, has once again created a score that is as versatile and unpredictable as it is catchy. (Just try to name another musical that can successfully nod at Hamilton, The Muppet Movie and Sweet Charity.)
All of the Office!’s many moving parts are a treat to catch in action; however, the most delightful of them is the ingenious wordplay and humor in the book and lyrics. “That’s What She Said!” is a mic-drop of a song, simply golden in its playful, adroit set-ups for Michael’s favorite one-liner. Though there is love and heartbreak in the romances between Jim and Pam and Dwight and Angela (“If I had a heart, you would have broken it,” spits Angela), The Office! serves as a master class in parody. Early on, Michael posits that “jokes are supposed to be offensive and self-defeating.” These jokes certainly fit the bill (with a bit more raunch mixed in), but as a whole the show is a smart nugget of delightful musical theatre that makes for an especially enjoyable, hilariously nostalgic experience.
Photos: Russ Rowland
The Office! A Musical Parody. Through December 31st at The Theater Center / Jerry Orbach Theater, 1627 Broadway. One hour, 50 minutes. One intermission. www.theofficemusicalparody.com