Parody? Travesty is more like it.
“The Office! A Musical Parody,’’ which has arrived at the Calderwood Pavilion, is a cheesy attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the classic NBC sitcom without demonstrating much understanding of what made it so great.
Like “The Office,’’ the musical sendup revolves around the beleaguered employees of the Dunder Mifflin paper company, plodding through their workdays in the Scranton, Pa., branch under the wayward leadership of inane boss Michael Scott. There are two major problems with the stage production: one basic, the other a bit more nuanced.
Let’s get the basic one out of the way first. “The Office! A Musical Parody’’ is almost entirely devoid of wit or inspiration, seldom bothering to reach higher than low-hanging fruit and the lowest common denominator. The sketches are half-baked, the jokes are flat, the songs are utterly forgettable. So are most of the performances.
Gratingly obvious every wearisome step of the way, and occasionally vulgar in uninteresting ways, the show reeks of desperation (you know a musical is in trouble when it resorts to a kickline less than 10 minutes in) as it pilfers not just familiar story lines, characters, and catch phrases from “The Office’’ but also snatches of masterworks like “Hamilton’’ and “West Side Story.’’
Now for the more complicated issue that undermines “The Office! A Musical Parody’’: The misbegotten decision to create it in the first place. Creators Bob and Tobly McSmith (who wrote the book and lyrics, with music by Assaf Gleizner) have chosen a hard-to-hit target.
Parody works best when the original work being spoofed is earnestly self-important and oblivious to its own ridiculousness. This is understood by a skilled parodist like Gerard Alessandrini, who for decades has made mincemeat of pretentious Broadway musicals and egotistical divas in his “Forbidden Broadway’’ series. Ditto for Boston’s own Ryan Landry, who along with his Gold Dust Orphans has made a career of skewering unintentionally campy movies and pop-culture figures.
The general principle even seems to be understood by the McSmiths, given that their earlier work has included parodies of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians’’ as well as formulaic sitcoms like “Friends,’’ “Full House,’’ and “Saved by the Bell.’’
But NBC’s “The Office’’ was the opposite of formulaic or earnest. Apart from the caliber of the writing and the performances by a cast led by Steve Carell, its brilliance resided in the layers of ironic self-awareness that were baked into the sitcom’s very structure. (The same was true of the original British version co-created by and starring Ricky Gervais.)
How do you pull off the parodic subversion of a TV comedy that is already so slyly subversive, one whose mockumentary structure allowed it to constantly comment upon, and wink at, itself?
It’s not easy. But the McSmiths don’t really try. Instead, they broaden and flatten the intricate, knowing humor of “The Office’’ with all the subtlety of a steamroller while delivering lame riffs on the TV show’s familiar tropes and plot lines.
Here’s a partial list: The threatened closure of the Scranton branch by Dunder Mifflin’s corporate bigwigs (which supplies a pretext for the cast of the stage production to sing “They’re not going to close this shop’’ to the tune of “My Shot,’’ from “Hamilton’’). Michael’s use of the phrase “That’s what she said’’ whenever the conversation even remotely approaches double-entendre territory. His bid to play a scare-‘em-straight character called “Prison Mike.’’
The straight-to-the-camera monologues. The unfortunate demise of Angela’s cat, Sprinkles. The competitive skirmishes within the party-planning committee. Michael’s man-crush on Ryan, the intern turned would-be corporate power-player. The Dundies, an annual Dunder Mifflin awards show. That time Michael hit Meredith with his car. The “Run for the Cure’’ of rabies. The late-in-the-series casting of Kathy Bates.
Most of the stage production comes across as amateurish without the redeeming innocence of amateurism, although a few glimmers of talent can be glimpsed amid the wreckage, including Patrick Constant, who doubles as Jim Halpert and Andy Bernard. Constant doesn’t make much of an impression as Jim (played by John Krasinski in the TV series) but his limb-splaying portrayal of Andy (played by Ed Helms in the series) nicely captures Andy’s goofy combination of arrogance and insecurity.
However, Emma Brock has chosen, or more likely has been directed, to go overly big and loud at every moment in her portrayal of Michael Scott. As office crackpot Dwight Schrute, Christian Fary doesn’t register vividly enough, and neither did Yamuna Meleth as receptionist Pam Beesly at the performance I attended. (The part is usually played by Madeline Glenn Thomas.)
But Nathan Lane, Sutton Foster, and Andrea Martin combined would not be enough to elevate “The Office! A Musical Parody.’’ As I exited the theater after digesting this pre-Thanksgiving turkey, I wondered where I could go to get back the two hours of my life that had just been squandered.
THE OFFICE! A MUSICAL PARODY
Book and lyrics by Bob & Tobly McSmith. Music and orchestrations by Assaf Gleizner. Directed and choreographed by Donald Garverick. Production by Right Angle Entertainment. At Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through Dec. 1. Tickets $25-$89, 617-933-8600, www.bostontheatrescene.com