Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit

Pittsburgh CLO's production of Forbidden Broadway: SVU
Pittsburgh CLO once again showcases the genius of Gerard Alessandrini, with a new version of Forbidden Broadway. Framed lightly by a takeoff of the television show "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit", Forbidden Broadway: SVU (as they sing it) combines several gems from earlier incarnations of Forbidden Broadway with newly minted ones, creating a show certain to delight Forbidden Broadway veterans or virgins. Chockful of spot-on lampoons of Broadway shows past and present (hit and flop), Forbidden Broadway: SVU features a talented and hard working cast whose enthusiasm is contagious.

The "Law & Order" framework, with actors appearing in the opening number as Jerry Orbach and B.D. Wong, seems a bit unnecessary (and is it a bit early to be laughing at someone playing the late Jerry Orbach?), but it's hardly overused, and the presence of a theme is a Forbidden Broadway tradition. Most of the show is a machine-gun spray of parody bullets that, for the most part, hit their target with hilarious results (a Hugh Jackman segment is a bit of a dead spot, as is the obsolete "Defying Chenoweth" Wicked bit, and part of the Billy Joel skit goes over the line of good taste - a line that has frequently been walked like a tightrope in Forbidden Broadway history). A few favorite skits (the revival of Les Miserables on Broadway gives reason to bring back the classic parodies of songs from that show, though I think they never really left, nor should they) are still here, joined by takeoffs of newer shows: The Drowsy Chaperone, Jersey Boys, The Light in the Piazza, Mary Poppins, Spamalot. It's not necessary to be a Broadway junkie to enjoy them all, and most of those who see the touring shows in Pittsburgh will be sufficiently aware of the cast of characters to be satisfied.

In addition to well written skits, Forbidden Broadway: SVU features a well cast ensemble of versatile actor/singers: two women and two men. The women, Christiana Craig-Dukes and Christine Laitta, were also part of the earlier version CLO presented, which ran for almost a year. Each actress has grown to be more confident and adventurous in the myriad of characterizations they are called on to provide. Craig-Dukes still does a very good Channing, though I could go for a while without seeing another Carol Channing impression, good or bad. The young performer provides a vacant-eyed Clara from The Light in the Piazza and a not-too-dissimilarly expressioned monkey from Wicked. The big surprised comes when she crosses genders to get laughs as a Jersey Boy. Laitta is the character actress among all of these character actors, and goes full out as Liza, Barbra, Ethel and Mary (Poppins) among others. "Liza One Note" is not new, but Laitta sure makes it fun, and her impressions of Streisand and Merman are accomplished and not run of the mill. She is really the core member of this group.

Tim Brady and Tom Schaller are well known local actors but new to this Forbidden Broadway (Brady worked behind the scenes in last year's production). With no slight to the former ensemble actors, Joe Domencic and Marcus Stevens, the older Brady and Schaller bring a cohesiveness and maturity to the show that makes many of the jokes land better. Brady's Robert Goulet is tremendous; it helps that he has a voice nearly as golden as Goulet's original. And I have to say, there is no physical shtick funnier than Schaller going topless - with glitter pasties - as the Alan Cumming-like Emcee from Cabaret. Call me a reverse-ageist, but I think when these two actors play down (in age) in a parody of Rent ("Seasons of Hype") it's simply funnier than it was with actors of an age at which they could actually be cast in Rent.

To dwell on individual characteristics may be unfair in a show like this, as the strength of the show is most evident in the group numbers. These four performers work well together and, with great direction by William Selby, they provide a well-balanced ensemble to deliver a steady flow of comedy. In particular, the dependable Disney ("Circle of Mice," "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight," "Be Depressed") and Les Miserables ("At the End of the Play," "God It's High," etc.) segments are crowd favorites.

Always a fine addition, Deana Muro is back as Musical Director and Pianist, and she provides one of the show's highlights with every accompanist's lament, "I'm Playing Their Song."

Did you enjoy an earlier Forbidden Broadway? You must come back and see this one. Never seen any version? This is a perfect show for you as well. In fact, Forbidden Broadway: Svu will probably please a wider age range as younger theatre fans may be more familiar with the newer shows now included.

Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit continues at Pittsburgh CLO at Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue. For schedule and ticket information, call 412-456-6666 or visit

-- Ann Miner

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