The current musical production at The Lakewood Playhouse is Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits.”
Don’t spent any time on trying to figure out what is so “forbidden” by this outstanding musical performance – there is nothing taboo about the material, sound, choreography and certainly not the talent which makes up this dynamic jaunt into the head of the master parodist who created it.
That’s what this whole show is – a parody! Just in case you were asleep when your 10th grade English teacher explained parody to the class, don’t tax your brain – Mr. Webster will recall the definition for you:
Parody: a musical work imitating the characteristic style of some other work in a satirical and humorous way – a caricature.
So, you can compare “Forbidden Broadway” to one elaborate Al Hirschfeld sketch – with all the eye talent Hirschfeld possessed added to the brilliant sounds coming from the multi talented cast.
Alyson Soma returns to Lakewood Playhouse after an extended hiatus to direct this musical hilarity. Soma had a major problem to overcome with her cast when taking on this job. Namely, many of the cast has performed several of the parts they are now parodying.
This means the director must admonish the cast to wipe their minds clean and learn new words to the same music they know so well. It’s sort of like singing “God Bless America” to the tune of “Happy Birthday” and not mixing up the words! Try it; you’ll get a brief idea of what the cast is experiencing.
Soma is extremely successful in her endeavor partly due to her back-up crew and mostly due to her cast choices.
The crew consists of James Venturini as scenic and properties designer. Venturini’s set puts Musical Director Benjamin Bentler’s piano on stage so he becomes an additional cast member who contributes with glib interjections with the cast as well as expertly accompanying the singers up close and personal.
There are some risers offering different mini-stages to move from vignette-to-vignette, of which there are almost two dozen, and multiple entrances.
Lauren Wells, currently tech director/costume designer and co-founder of Pacific Northwest Theater, among other things, makes her Lakewood debut with this demanding costume and prop show. Wells gathers just enough together so the audience has the right feel of the original productions without weighing down the scenes and actors – well, then, there’s the “Hello, Dolly” scenes. These are made perfect with the help of Jeffery Swiney-Weaver’s wonderful wigs.
Nicolas “Nicolai” Roycroft does the light design; Aaron Mohs-Hale does sound. Cara Hall is Stage Manager, assisted by Annika Nordleaf-Nelson – what a job these two have keeping the cast on deck for the incredible fast-paced almost two hour adventure.
Never has the term “Ensemble Cast” taken on a more true meaning. Each of the seven human actors (and one canine) is the lead or a back-up in the ever-changing scenes.
Soma has chosen perfectly. All her cast is brilliant in song, dance and acting. They are Alexis Dyson, Katheryne Elliott, Timothy McFarlan, Micheal O’Hara, Sharry O’Hare, Dawn Padula, Ashley Roy (who is also chorographer) and Toby – a four-footed, brown and white Papillion charmer.
Their performances range from unbelievably excellent to fantastic! Whether you can hear the parody words Alessandrini has written or the left side of your brain only hears the real words you have known for years, it doesn’t really matter – the sounds are the things that will capture your heart. If you have the ability to shut off the known and listen to the new, you’ll be rolling in the aisles.
Picture this: O’Hare appears near the piano in a red with white trim dress; Toby rests comfortably under her arm, a cigarette dangles from her mouth as the red-haired chanteuse sings “I’ll be 30 years old – tomorrow. When I did “Annie,” I was 10.” Got the idea?
The scene segues into “Into the WORDS,” a nod to Steven Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” with O’Hara, Dyson (Red Riding-hood) and McFarlan (Sweeny Todd) trying to help the audience get through some of Sondheim’s weighty words.
O’Hare, with almost more hair than she can handle belting out “Hello, Dolly” backed by McFarlan and Roy.
Chita/Rita is a parody on Chita Rivera (Padula) and (Elliott) Rita Moreno (both of whom did Anita in “Westside Story.” These two fiery would-be Puerto Ricans who look nothing alike become identical twins.
O’Hara sings Mandy Patinkin as Che Guevara in “Evita” and morphs into Jean Val Jean in “Les Miserables” with Roy doing Fantine, throwing a nod to Susan Boyle (Britain’s Got Talent discovery), while Roy as Cosette avows her love for Marius and Dyson as Eponine dies for him.
This is only part of Act I! The pace is beautifully heart-pounding.
Act II has O’Hara and O’Hare doing a bit with her as Ethel Merman admonishing him as Michael Crawford for using a face mike to be heard. “I never needed one!” mike-less O’Hare belts out to be heard beyond the parking lot.
Roy sings out Liza Minnelli who channels her mother, Judy Garland then segues into Grizabella’s “Memories” from “Cats.”
Padula looks like and sounds like Marilyn Michaels doing Barbara Streisand and Roy appears with Elliot, Toby, O’Hara and McFarlan from “Hairspray.”
Everyone is on hand for the final vignette from “A Chorus Line.”
The audience thunders applause on the cast which graciously accepts it with a smile and a “glad-you-like-it – Thank you.”
The audience is almost as exhausted as the cast as they exit the theatre with broad smiles on their faces and memories of the memories in their minds.
“Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through February 3 each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is also a Pay-What-You-Can Actor’s benefit performance scheduled for Thursday, January 24 at 8 p.m.
There is no doubt that the sounds coming from the Lakewood Playhouse during “Forbidden Broadway’s” performances are among the best ever heard in this theatre or anywhere else in the Puget Sound area and there have been some pretty good sounds in this little theatre Mecca far from Broadway. You’ve got seven more chances to prove this to yourself.
Make your reservations soon. You just may want to see it twice! Much of the audience has done just that.
Remember, anything this good can’t be Forbidden!