Sunday, September 23, 2007

Forbidden Broadway-Special Victims Unit

‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’ delights at Hanna

“That was fun,” “The ‘LES MIZ’ part was hysterical,” “I didn’t get all the in-jokes but that didn’t matter, I still loved it.” Those were some of the comments I overheard as I was exiting the Hanna Theatre after the reviewer’s night of ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY—SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT.”

In January of 1982, out-of-work actor Gerald Alessandrini, who needed a way to showcase his talents, assembled some musical parodies, and made them into a night club act. The result was a critical and audience praised production which morphed itself into ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY,’ now the Big Apple’s longest running musical comedy revue.

Alessandrini nicely skewers shows, stars, playwrights, lyricists, choreographers and producers. He has an endless supply of new material as each Broadway season proceeds through its production year. As long as Broadway exists, there is potential for more Forbiddens.

Updated regularly, ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’ has had several editions, countless revisions, national and international tours, and thousands of special performances.

The show being staged in Cleveland, ‘FORBIDDEN BROADWAY—SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT,’ is not as complete as other productions of the script. Thinking that local audiences will not have seen the latest Broadway hits, parts of the goings-on have been dropped. The result is delightful, but I wish that Alessandrini and Director/Choreographer William Selby had had a little more respect for North Coast audiences and given us the authentic material.

Alessandrini supposedly centers this reincarnation on a format of TV’s ‘LAW AND ORDER.” The idea is that heinous crimes are being perpetrated against hapless victims…those who attend the Broadway theatre by reviving old shows and keeping productions running well beyond when they should have.

As does the TV show, FB-SVU starts out with Jerry Orbach (Greg Violand) and B.D. Wong (Brian Marshall) investigating a murder. In this case it’s the gunning down of aged, cigarette-smoking Annie (Tricia Bestic), while standing center stage in her classic red dress and curly mop of hair, singing her signature tune “Tomorrow.” Well, in this case, it’s "I'm thirty years old/Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, the concept of the investigation of other crimes is never again specifically addressed as the show goes merrily along with the Special Victims Unit stars never again appearing. But, this is a review, not a well-written play, so this “minor” oversight can be forgiven.

Most of the shows that are referred to have toured Cleveland. A segment from ‘LION KING,’ in which the actors complain about the discomfort of the costumes and masks, is delightful. ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST,’ as well as many other Disney shows, are mocked. A fight for who is a better actress centers on the two female stars of ‘WICKED.’ Greg Violand convulses the audience in his take on ‘MONTY PYTHON.’ Violand, in great voice, also does a delightful bit mocking “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.’ Brian Marshall is properly miffed because night after night he has to portray a feline, complete with flees, in ‘CATS.’ An argument between Chita Rivera (Carmen Keels) and Rita Moreno (Tricia Bestic), set to music from ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ was an audience pleaser. A segment from ‘RENT’ also got extended laughter and applause.

Outstanding individual performances abounded. Violand did a fun take on ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’ entitled ‘FIDDLER WITH NO JEWS’ complete with a Harvey Fierstein in drag take-off. Marshall brought forth an updated version of ‘CABARET,’ while Keels did a great Julie Andrews shtick. Bestic mocked Liza Minnelli and Ethel Merman, while Keels skewered Sarah Brightman.

The cast, composed of Cleveland performers, Tricia Bestic, Brian Marshall, and Greg Violand and New Yorker Carmen Keels is excellent. They all have fine voices and confident stage presence. Director Selby keeps the show moving swiftly along.

Often referred to as “A Cleveland treasure with at least three hands,” Marge Adler serves with wonder as the Musical Director, Pianist, and part-time performer.

Side note: It would have been helpful if the songs and/or shows were listed in the program in their order of presentation.

Capsule judgment: ‘FORBIDDEN BROAWAY-SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT’ will be a delight for all those familiar with Broadway shows and personalities. But what about the non-theatre regulars? I asked the couple sitting next to me, who confessed that they are not “theatre people,” their views of the production. Their answer? “We loved it! We’re going to bring friends to see it.”