Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Forbidden Broadway - 20th Anniversary Tour

In addition to the regular season of large blockbuster musicals offered in the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati Series, smaller shows are now also being presented in what is titled Off-Broadway in Cincinnati. Forbidden Broadway - 20th Anniversary Tour is the second such production (following Late Nite Catechism earlier this year) to take the stage in the comfy confines of the 437-seat Jarson-Kaplan Theater in the Aronoff Center. The witty, scathing, and hilarious spoof of Broadway musicals and theater stars is in robust form with this tour.

Forbidden Broadway is a show where nothing is sacred, and everything and everyone related to Broadway is at the mercy of parody in its harshest form. The musical adds wickedly witty lyrics to established showtune melodies. Gerard Alessandrini is behind the high camp as creator, writer, and director of the show (and its numerous incarnations). His lyrics are skillfully crafted with barbed wire bite. The direction supplies a lighting quick pace and great attention to detail in mimicking the staging nuances of the shows being spoofed. The amusing staging of the show reflects equal parts nightclub act, cabaret performance, and theater. The incredibly humorous and befitting costumes by Alvin Colt are wonderful.

Part of the glory of Forbidden Broadway is that it is updated regularly to reflect the latest shows and stars on Broadway. Though musical skits of ready-to-spoof new shows, such as Wicked, The Boy From Oz, and Bombay Dreams haven't been inserted yet, there is still plenty of material taking on the last few years to please current audiences. Gypsy's burlesque trio "You Gotta Have A Gimmick" is now "You Gotta Have a Puppet" and includes Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Lion King, each suggesting the need to have a puppet for your show to be a hit. Hairspray, The Producers, Mamma Mia! , and Thoroughly Modern Millie are also included (to varying degrees of effect).

Less recent shows are also parodied, for those not up-to-date on the current state of Broadway. Les Miserables, Annie ("Tomorrow" sung by a chain-smoking 30-year-old Annie), Gypsy, Phantom of the Opera, and Man of La Mancha are all subject to ridicule here. However, even more intense derision is saved for the trio of Disney shows currently on Broadway. Song titles such as "Circle of Mice" (Disney's overwhelming presence on Broadway), "Can You Feel The Pain Tonight (due to wearing the huge costumes in The Lion King), "Beauty's Been Decreased" (mocking the downsizing of Beauty and the Beast), and "Big Elaborate Sets" (satire on the reliance of spectacle over substance in Aida) speak volumes.

The greatest skewering, however, is reserved for the individual stars of shows. Their take on Melanie Griffith's performance in Chicago is side-splittingly funny, and the lyrics sung by an impersonated Mel Brooks in "I Wanna Be A Composer" are sure to strike a chord with theater enthusiasts. Sarah Brightman, Kathleen Turner, Cameron Mackintosh, Harvey Fierstein, Julie Andrews, Mandy Patinkin, Barbra Streisand, and Ethel Merman are likewise lampooned with little held back.

The four energetic and talented cast members display great flexibility in both singing and characterization. Kristine Zbornk shows off a strong vocal instrument and wonderful comic timing as Annie, Merman, and Turner. Leisa Mather demonstrates endearing versatility as Griffith, Brightman, Andrews, and Streisand. Evin B. McGlynn excels as Jean Valjean, an injured Lion King cast member, and an Avenue Q puppeteer. Eric Gutman has the least interesting performance opportunities, but does just fine as Mackintosh and Patinkin. Matthew Ward supplies wonderful musical support from the on-stage piano.

Forbidden Broadway - 20th Anniversary Tour is a strong blend of mockery and celebration of Broadway. While die-hard fans may have a difficult time seeing their favorite shows and performers spoofed so harshly, the skill to which it is done in the writing, performances, and costumes is worth the viewing. The national tour of Forbidden Broadway continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through June 27, 2004. Tickets can be ordered by calling (513) 241-7469.

-- Scott Cain

Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule

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