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As a diehard musical theatre buff, I get a huge kick out of clever genre parodies, such as the dependably uproarious Forbidden Broadway franchise. Too bad Susan Christiansen and Kevin M. Mitchell's new spoof falls short. Under Jaz Davison's direction, it's a belabored hodgepodge that doesn't fully commit to the zany tomfoolery needed to sustain it. When dull conventional ballads and plodding, semi-serious story elements exist alongside loony tunes and raunchy production numbers, we get stylistic schizophrenia.

Here's the skinny: Smarmy con man Eric (Dean Purvis) persuades composer-director Dawn (Samantha Klein) to create and stage 40 Whacks! The Musical, based on the real-life story of 1893 ax murderess Lizzie Borden. The action shifts awkwardly among several motifs. There are deliberately terrible but supposedly hilarious numbers from the musical-in-progress, as well as typical book-musical-type sequences in which the offstage characters burst into song. Least engaging are boring backstage scenes in which Eric "ruins" the concept by persuading Dawn to throw in ridiculous aspects that he believes will be commercial: everything from hip-hop music to lesbianism. Besides this, there's the disorienting device of the real-life characters of Lizzie (AnnaLisa Erickson) and aviator Amelia Earhart (Kelly Boczek)—don't even ask!—lurking around in ghost-like fashion yet sometimes appearing as actors in the musical. It adds up to a dramaturgic mess.

Worse yet, too many gags crash and burn amid the scattered zingers. Witless double-entendres such as "I was playing with myself" and stultifying production numbers such as "Fornicating With the Producer Rag" confuse juvenile vulgarity with trenchant humor. Technical snafus add to the woes. Annoyingly loud canned music sometimes drowns out song lyrics. Klein swallows several lines even when the music isn't playing; her nuance-free, distracted portrayal is a washout. Purvis is an engaging, resourceful actor stymied by the limitations of a one-note role: a swaggering snake from the get-go. Erickson is among the few performers exhibiting the no-holds-barred bravado needed to pull off an over-the-top lampoon. As she swings her ax with bloody abandon, one keeps wishing she would slice and dice the protracted book and melody-challenged score.

"Musical: the Musical!," presented by and at the Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A. Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Mar. 5-Apr. 24. $20-25. (323) 667-0955.

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