Poked with a Sharp Styx

Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette Peters in the Amazon series pilot Mozart in the Jungle.

Parodies of modern musical theater usually revolve the same one old joke—the unlikeliness or inappropriateness of certain material being put to music. The Simpsons is the standardbearer of such parodies, from Oh Streetcar! to “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off.”

“Styx Oedipus Rocks,” part of the new series Mozart in the Jungle currently being auditioned on Amazon Prime, is one of those. It’s got a guy in a flashy toga stabbing himself in the eyes with thunderbolts handed to him by pirouetting bikini-clad Cretans while crooning “Come Sail Away.” But the bit, which illustrates the degradations faced by a cellist and oboeist who must labor in Oedipus Styx’s orchestra pit, has a special resonance.

First off,  the co-creators of Mozart in the Jungle are Alex Timbers, real-life director of the credulity-straining rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; Jason Schwartzman, who played the hyperconceptual student director of a school play in the movie Rushmore; and Roman Coppola, who directed a video for Green Day, who album-turned-musical American Idiot is one of the things (besides Mamma Mia, of course) you might think of when watching Styx Oedipus Rocks.

Second, this is a New York savvy show—It’s shot on the streets of the city, outside such institutions as the New York Symphony, and no less a Broadway icon than Bernadette Peters is a cast member (as the chairwoman of the symphony board).

Third, it’s all amusingly close for comfort. There have been actual rock operas based on Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The band Styx was castigated for making its album (and especially its tour) Kilroy Was Here too overtly theatrical, with kicklines and a convoluted plot. (Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung toured with Jesus Christ Superstar in 1993 and released a solo album of Broadway songs in ’94.

Styx Oedipus Rocks seems so unlikely. Yet as Sophocles’ own play has told us, incredible falls from grace are more likely than you think.