reviewed by Larry Adams

Trying to get laughs is dismal

Specially when the lines aren’t there.”

Parody is a uniquely risky thing on stage. While most theatrical endeavors rise or fall on their own, parody stands in constant relation to that which it is lampooning, thus inviting- almost demanding- continual comparison. In the right comedic hands, this can be a true joy to watch. The problem comes when the parody itself is not nearly as inventive or witty as that which it’s attempting to skewer. Unfortunately, the final show of ATI’s 2018-2019 season, “Forbidden Broadway,” falls squarely in the latter camp.

The product of a series of Broadway song parodies originally performed in New York City nightclubs, Forbidden Broadway began its formal theatrical run in 1982. Since then, author Gerard Alessandrini has attempted to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of Broadway musical hits by continually refreshing his show with new material, resulting in twenty-one different “official versions” over the past three-plus decades. According to the program, Alessandrini has now taken a hiatus from the project (to work on- what else?- a “Hamilton” spoof), and after watching the latest iteration at Carmel’s Actors Theatre of Indiana this past Friday night, one gets the feeling that even he can sense this gravy train has just about run out of track.

The cast of “Forbidden Broadway” – from left: Don Farrell, Cynthia Collins, Logan Moore and Judy Fitzgerald

After an introduction I didn’t quite get, involving two men apparently lost in New York City while looking for theater- or something- the show thankfully abandons any pretense of a cohesive storyline and goes straight for the song parodies. This starts fairly strong with a solid send-up of Matt Stone, Trey Parker and “The Book of Mormon,” but then takes a long and deep dive into mediocrity for most of the first act, beginning with a virtually unintelligible riff on West Side Story… I think. Fortunately, the show is saved just before intermission by what has to be at least a ten-minute hunk on “Les Miserables” and its famous (though long retired) turntable stage, featuring the most popular song of the evening, “It’s Too High,” a spoof of Jean Valjean’s plaintive “Bring Him Home.”

clockwise from top: Logan Moore, Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell and Judy Fitzgerald satirize “Les Miserables” in a scene from ATI’s production of “Forbidden Broadway”

The second act fares slightly better, with long takes on “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” The jokes tend to be fairly obvious, telegraphed, and strung out a bit too far, particularly in a sequence on “Man of La Mancha” (We get it! He’s old! Start the song, already!), but some solid jabs are landed, especially concerning the Disneyfication of Broadway. A final piece on Sondheim edges toward poignancy but was maybe too inside baseball for me- or maybe just too late in the game to grab me back.

It’s not that the production itself was particularly off. Though occasionally pitchy- and surprisingly often committing the theatrical sin of overreaching when laughs were clearly not coming- all four actors threw themselves into the multiple roles required of them Friday night with gusto, throughout what must surely be an exhausting show night after night. The clear standout in both voice and manner was Indiana’s own Logan Moore, but castmates Cynthia Collins, Judy Fitzgerald and Don Farrell all gamely tackled the material on stage about as well as anyone could.

from left: Judy Fitzgerald, Don Farrell, Cynthia Collins, and Logan Moore with Keith Potts at the piano in a scene from ATI’s “Forbidden Broadway”

Pianist Keith Potts was truly a bright spot in the evening, and though the set was somewhat uninspiring, the lighting worked well with the scenes and Donna Jacobi’s costuming was nothing short of fantastic. No, the problem is that quite frankly Alessandrini’s songs just aren’t that funny. Simple word switches substitute for actual wit: The “Les Miserables” tearjerker “On My Own” becomes “On My PHONE” (Ah! I see what you did there!). “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” drags on interminably as the one-joke “Can You Feel the PAIN Tonight,” with Alessandrini mining the mega-hit “Lion King” for comedic gold and apparently deciding it’s in the orthopedic problems caused by the costumes- pretty astoundingly weak cheese for a theatrical quarry that offers more easy targets than an NRA convention. Unfortunately, most of the show’s humor rises only to about this level, reminiscent more of Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer than the genius of Tom Lehrer.

Bottom Line: If you’re in the mood for some really light fluff, and you REALLY like Broadway, this show might be for you.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Forbidden Broadway continues at ATI’s Studio Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through May 19th. You can get information about the schedule and tickets by calling 317.843.3800 or by logging on at http://www.atistage.org .

  • photos provided by Actors Theatre of Indiana
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