Review: Forbidden Broadway – I dare you not to laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry!

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Call me a stereotype but I love musicals. Always have, always will. That was why I was so excited to hear a local company had decided to take on Gerard Alessandrini’s Forbidden Broadway, the wickedly funny spoof of the music, characters and plots of some of the great white way’s biggest shows. And if this production, our first for the year, by Fighting Chance Productions is any indication, we’re in for a great year of theatre in Vancouver!

Included in this “best of” version (a number of versions of the show have been written since it originally played off-Broadway in 1984), are spoofs of shows such as Chicago, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Hairspray, The Phantom of the Opera and Annie. We’re also served send-ups of everything from Fosse dance choreography to some of Broadway’s biggest names including Bebe Neuwirth, Carol Channing, and yes, even Ethel Merman.

Forbidden Broadway is one of those shows that since the lyrics are often times laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry funny it most probably would still be entertaining, even if a cast were not up to its challenges. Fortunately for us though, that is not the case here, with the entire cast of five (Andrea Bailey, Natalee Fera, Aaron Lau, David Nicks and Cathy Wilmot) taking on the wide range of characters, musical styles and shows with relative ease and more importantly with a great deal of tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek fun.

One of the challenges in doing Forbidden Broadway, besides the five actors having to play a multitude of characters from the various musicals it skewers, is the necessity to play a number of real people as well. Included here are such Broadway legends as Liza Minnelli, Mandy Patinkin and Barbra Streisand. With few exceptions, the cast here easily transformed, not with outright impersonations, which could have been disastrous, but by channeling the essence of each of these well-known personalities.

The cast of Forbidden Broadway
The cast of the Fighting Chance Produtions presentation of Forbidden Broadway

But while all five cast members do good jobs with the various roles they must take on, Cathy Wilmot continues to amaze, and I dare say, is one of Vancouver’s best actors (Wilmot was a stand-out last year in Fighting Chances’ Rent and Pipedream’s A New Brain and in the 2007 Pickled Production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Whether it was her turn as Little Orphan Annie turning 30 “tomorrow”, as Carol Channing perpetually playing Dolly Levi or Ethel Merman teaching the Phantom of the Opera a thing or two, Wilmot proves once again that not only can she sing and act, but that she is a terrific comedian as well.  Wilmot deliciously gets to reprise her solo here from Rent as well, proving she and Director Ryan Mooney definitely have a sense of humour.

Both Director Ryan Mooney and Musical Director Sarah Jaysmith obviously know their musical theatre stuff and deftly help their actors with the diversity of styles here.  Jaysmith also gets to prove her worth as the sole accompanient on piano.  Mooney uses the small PAL Theatre stage well including an appearance by Rum Tum Tugger from beneath the small raised stage.  The prop gags and costumes worked well too, including some very funny flying monkeys and A Chorus Line such that you have never seen, even back in the 80s.

While this is certainly not a show with a lot of choreography, this was one area that I felt a little let-down. With the cast nailing most of the musical styles, people and plays, I had hoped for a bit more in the dance department. Since no choreographer is named in the playbill I am going to assume that Director Mooney did double-duty here and if that is the case I reiterate my belief that choreographer and director should not be the same person.

You don’t need to worry if you haven’t seen all of the musicals here either since each scene only lasts for a few minutes; if you don’t quite get a particular scene, you probably will in the next.

This was indeed a fun start to Vancouver’s 2010 theatre season from one of Vancouver’s amateur theatre groups. Go. I dare you not to laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry!

4 out of 5 starsForbidden Broadway
6 – 16 January 2009 (Wednesday-Saturday @ 8pm / Tuesdays @ 7:30pm / Saturday Matinees @ 2pm)
PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street, Vancouver

Tickets are $12 – $24 available online at Tickets Tonight or by calling 604.684-2787.  Talk Backs on Tuesdays and Saturday matinees following the performance.

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