Thursday, September 28, 2000

Theater Review


'Forbidden Broadway' shines brighter than its victims

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If you love Broadway musicals, if you loved SCTV, if you think one thing the Cincinnati entertainment scene lacks is first-rate cabaret, then don't miss Forbidden Broadway, visiting the Aronoff from New York, courtesy of Downtown Theatre Classics through Oct. 15.

        The show gets underway by sharpening its razor wit on its Aronoff neighbor Fosse. To the tune of “Razzle-Dazzle 'Em,” Forbidden's talented cast don their bowlers and white gloves, posture precisely and sing “glossy Fosse 'em, saucy Fosse 'em” in a dead-on send-up.

        This touring edition of Forbidden is tailor-made to Cincinnati, so that most of the shows on this season's Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series get a poking, from Annie to Fiddler on the Roof to next season's opener Phantom of the Opera.

        It would be a crime to give away master parodist (and Forbidden creator/writer/director) Gerard Alessandrini's musical punch lines, but the true Broadway musical devotee will giggle (if not outright shriek with laughter) as Cameron MacIntosh, king of the British invasion of the Eighties, sings about his favorite things.

        Forbidden is the show that isn't afraid to ask what Mandy Patinkin has in common with Mary Poppins. Even W.S. Gilbert would admire Mr. Alessandrini's way with a patter song.

        This edition is a jolly mix of old and new, affectionate spoofing and unerring skewering.

        Among the classic bits are Chita/Rita, which sort of explains the difference between Rivera and Moreno; the seemingly never-ending touring of Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! and the dazzling — and dizzying — first-act closer, which sends up both Les Miz and it's turntable.

        Through all the years and many editions of Forbidden, the quality of Mr. Alessandrini's satire has always been directly proportionate to his level of passion about any given sketch subject.

        He's not as inspired by Footloose, so boring as to be unworthy of his gifts, as he is by the Disneyfication of New York's theater district. He uses Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun to rail against revivals and the lack of original work on Broadway, and he cleverly uses Miss Saigon to observe that even "original' shows can be rip-offs.

        He's aggravated by singers who couldn't be heard across a table for two without a microphone, by critics who buy into their own hype, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and his chipmunk-cheeked ex-wife Sarah Brightman.

        Unworthy performers, turned into overnight sensations get skewered hilariously, as in a Jekyll and Hyde routine persuasively suggesting that anybody with a modicum of talent could ace the dual role.

        All this and a whole lot more is packed into Forbidden's one hour and forty-five minutes.

        Forbidden is as smartly performed as it is conceived. The cast of four — Danica Connors, Karen Errington, Kevin B. McGlynn and Brian Patrick Miller — are marvelously adept at impersonations, at slipping in and out of characters and in and out of costumes, some of them quite elaborate (as in Les Miz.) They are ably accompanied by Catherine Stornetta on piano.

        Forbidden is a lot smarter, a lot funnier, and immeasurably more original than too many shows that open on the Great White Way. Anybody who really loves Broadway and cares about the survival of the American musical might be tempted to join Mr. Alessandrini's army, or at the very least his audience.

        If I have one complaint, it's that Forbidden is a show that is best seen at a miserably tiny cabaret table where your knees knock your partners as you snack on stale pretzels in a paper cup and sip an over-priced Cosmopolitan, just like in New York.

        Forbidden Broadway, Downtown Theatre Classics, Aronoff Center Jarson-Kaplan Theater, through Oct. 15. 241-7469.

       



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