Forbidden Broadway by Gerard Alessandrini. Directed by Billy Kimmel.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
The company; photo provided
"...the naughty lines we spew!"
Nine thousand performances after its opening in New York City in 1982, the satirical revue, Forbidden Broadway, is making a regional debut at Stageworks/Hudson this week. This newly licensed version of the show features some of its classic sketches and songs and it is a welcome relief from the earnestness that poses for professional work to have this tongue-in-cheek experience so wonderfully handled by five performers whose mission seems to be to make us laugh while they donít.
That has always been one of the joys of this show - the cast never breaks up. They can be doing the most outrageous piece and no one cracks a smile that hasnít been directed, no one laughs, giggles, or chortles unless it is part of the scene.
Executive Artistic Director Laura Margolis has assembled a perfect cast and then stepped back and handed the reins to a man who knows his way around a farcical parody, Billy Kimmel. Kimmel has directed these shows before and acted his way through much of this material also. In Hudson, on a wide and deep stage without much height, he takes his intrepid interpreters on flights of unimaginable fantasy. By the end of the evening I was laughing so hard my throat hurt too much to shout "Bravi!!"
The hilarity begins with the second number, Kander and Ebbís "Chicago" and continues unabated throughout the entirety of the first act, and then only after the Les Miserable" cast - all five of them - to finish out the first half of the evening. And in between the larger ensemble pieces are the set, character study, or character-damaging, solo spots. They are never anything but fun.
Among the best in this regionally produced showcase of talents is the Carol Channing of Molly Walsh. She is outlandishly funny with her badly smeared lipstick mouth, her three red feathers and her wide-eyed, manic looks. She switches faces and voices later on as Liza Minnelli (so manic from too many drugs that she tells the same stories over and over) and also Barbra Streisand (a disaffected diva with a passion for hair-flipping).
Billy Kimmel has his own set of impressions to contend with including a hilariously self-centered Mandy Patinkin. As Patinkin he poses his way through a song that seems to take longer to sing than it took to build the Eiffel Tower. Later, he plays Tevye, the milkman, in an ensemble number called "Ambition" (think about it, then laugh). Kimmel has also staged and directed this show and his work shines in every sketch, in every musical number.
Stephen Thompson is genuinely funny in everything he does here, but his Rafreaky in the Lion King sequence is especially cherished. It was impossible to tell, from his entrance later as a decrepit knight errant, where he was going to land: "Spamalot" or "Man of La Mancha" or some other daft musical about knights trying to walk in their armor, but when we arrive at his destination it turns out the speculation was worth every moment of the wait.
Molly Parker-Meyers is the fourth wheel of equal weight in this company and does a star-turn as Julie Andrews in the "Mama Mia" sequence and as Chita Rivera in the "West Side Story" number "Chita/Rita."
In fact, to single out a single character or scene for any of these four players is truly impossible. They all had resonance and insight and the lyrics truly carry the day. In a season whose early days have brought me face to face with "Hello, Dolly!" "Carousel," and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" I sat in the Stageworks audience thinking I could have waited and just enjoyed the humorous take instead.
Kurt Perry is a wonderful at the piano and the costumes designed by Deepsikha Chatterjee were perfect as were the wigs by Stephen Joshua Thompso.
I heard someone ask if this show wasnít too sophisticated, too "in" for Hudson and for Berkshire region audiences. Judging from the level of laughter it is clear that the answer is "absolutely not." This is a well-chosen entree into Stageworks fifteenth anniversary season.
Forbidden Broadway plays at Stageworks/Hudson through July 12. The theater is located at 41 Cross Street, Hudson, NY and has itís own parking lot behind the Amtrak Station parking lot. Tickets range in price from $18 to $29 and for schedules and tickets contact the box office at 518-822-9667 or visit their website at www.stageworkshudson.org.