News Column

The Charlotte Observer Lawrence Toppman column

November 13, 2013


Nov. 13--Most old-timers lose some teeth when they reach a venerable age. But "Forbidden Broadway," which has played off and on in New York for 31 years -- the equivalent of a geologic era in professional theater -- still has the ability to bite.

It took its time sinking fangs into fresh targets Tuesday at Booth Playhouse: "Once" took a spanking after intermission, as did "Book of Mormon." (Both will reach us later in the Broadway Lights season that brought "Forbidden.")

But even some long-standing routines, performed with verve by a four-person cast and tireless pianist Catherine Stornetta, haven't lost luster.

As far as I can tell, this ever-changing spoof of Broadway hits hasn't played Charlotte, at least not in a standard run: It was booked for one night at Spirit Square in 1990, but I can find no evidence that it came.

Nor has it played Broadway, though the show and creator Gerard Alessandrini shared a special Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre in 1996. But for half the price of most of the big tours that get here, you may get twice the laughs.

A "Mary Poppins" take-off called "Feed the 'Burbs," about Broadway's propensity to please sububan audiences with simplsitic shows, had me wondering at first if that's what the "Forbidden" cast was doing here: Safely knocking musicals they know we know, from "Phantom" to "Les Miz."

Jokes about the twin Satans of the Great White Way, producer Cameron Mackintosh and Disney Theatrical Productions, would have been freshest in the 1990s. Yet I eventually realized we were getting a sort of "Greatest Forbidden Hits" (hence the "Chicago" knock) and a show tailored to suit all ages: Younger playgoers would smile at the "Book of Morons" spoof, and older ones might appreciate Gina Kreiezmar's stinging impressions of Ethel Merman and Liza Minnelli.

Impressions provide some of the show's most memorable moments, from Scott Richard Foster's overblown Al Pacino to Marcus Stevens' ultra-precious, self-absorbed Mandy Patinkin. (Wonder if the cast knows the "Homeland" star lives here while he's shooting?) Jeanne Montano stood out as the ultimate Cosette in the long "Les Miserables" routine that ended the first act.

The show gives us credit for knowing something about theater, too. A mention of "The Black Crook" alludes to the first-ever Broadway musical (1866); the literally running "Les Miz" joke depends on us realizing it originally played on a revolving turntable.

I'd guess most people understood the ribbing of Ricky Martin, the Che in the "Evita" that closed earlier this year; I wonder if they also followed the snarky remarks about Elena Roger, the reportedly sub-standard Evita who actually did come from Argentina.

Cast members zoom around in a flurry of wigs and costumes; three often change identities as a fourth holds the stage. The props and stage curtain look intentionally cheap, as if to assert that high production values alone do not make a show memorable. That's the point of more than a few songs in "Forbidden Broadway," and this tour provides proof.


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