Tongues are firmly planted in cheeks out at the Olney Theater and the stage is awash in cleverness and high spirits with the company's current production of "Songbook."
The musical revue, which was more aptly titled "The Moony Shapiro Songbook" when it ran briefly on Broadway two seasons back, tells the story of Michael Mooney, the Liverpool Irish lad, who became the legendary songwriter Moony Shapiro. You don't remember Moony Shapiro? The man who for five decades was at the heart of Tin Pan Alley and 20th-century history, the composer of such classic tunes as "Nazi Party Pooper" and "When a Brother is a Mother to a Sister"?
In reality, Moony is songwriting alter ego to Englishmen Monty Norman and Julian More, who wrote the book, music and sharp- edged lyrics for this revue, and who use their creation to give a satiric history of the last 50 years of popular song, scoring a few political points along the way.
According to the duo, Michael Mooney left Liverpool as a young man in the Twenties and arrived in New York City alone and penniless. He was taken into the home of Abe Shapiro, a music teacher whose pupils included kids named George, Ira, Irving, Jerome and Oscar. In this environment it was inevitable that Moony would also write songs.
In a series of sketches, punctuated by more than 35 of his songs, we follow Moony Shapiro on his picaresque journey through history. It seems he was also snubbed by Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, blacklisted during the heyday of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and an active participant in London's swinging '60s.
There are more twists and turns to this story enacted by a cast of five who, under the direction of James Waring, play all the people in Moony's life -- from mother superiors to Nazi storm troopers to Bob Dylan and a quartet of longhaired musicians from Liverpool.
The cast jumps agilely in and out of characters and costumes (special applause to the nimble-fingered dressers who help them change so quickly) while photographs of a given era are projected on screens above them.
Anthony Risoli, with his charming presence and fine voice, is an ingratiating Moony Shapiro. Barbara McCulloh provides whirlwind energy and a big voice as everything from a Swedish talking picture star to a World War II British music hall sing-along leader. She also choreographed the show.
"Songbook" is a fine summer evening's entertainment. SONGBOOK -- At the Olney Theater through August 8.