It’s a hit! “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” is the third show of Lakewood Playhouse’s landmark 80th season. Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway” is a cabaret-style presentation of spoofs of Broadway productions and parodies of some of Broadway’s big stars. Begun in 1982, the show has been updated numerous times throughout the years. The “greatest hits” compilation draws upon some of the juiciest material from the various iterations of “Forbidden Broadway.”
The Lakewood Playhouse production, directed by Alyson Soma, is a marvelous, lively show that hits on all cylinders. The seven cast members are strong vocalists and dynamic actors with precise comedic timing. Everything about this musical production is good: the amazing costumes, the brilliant lighting and the dancing (choreography is by Ashley Roy). The musical accompaniment is live: a grand piano played by Benjamin Bentler.
The members of the cast go through the show slipping and sliding into a variety of roles as they sing the melodies of Broadway hits refitted with lyrics that poke fun at some aspect of big, blockbuster shows like “Les Miserables,” “Cats,” “Wicked,” “West Side Story” and many more. There are also celebrity roast-like parodies of the vocal styles and mannerisms of Broadway stars like Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin and Carol Channing, who passed away just days after the opening of this production.
The show makes fun of Broadway’s excessive merchandising, the way that big shows can become buried in hype, the wordiness of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, the lack of subtlety and the elevation of campiness in shows like “Mama Mia” and “Hairspray.”
Lakewood Playhouse assembled a cast with the vocal talent to deliver the musical goods, without which a show like this might have fallen flat. Members of the audience are able to sit back and simply delight in the extravaganza as the power of the cast carries the show along without a glitch.
Alexis Dyson is expressive and dynamic. She is especially hilarious in her parody of “an obnoxious singing waif” in the “Les Miserables” spoof. The sultry Katheryne Elliott is possessed of the talents of a pop diva. Her “Defying Subtlety” is a perfect mockery of Idina Menzel’s hit, “Defying Gravity,” from “Wicked.” Timothy McFarlan is affable, bright and energetic. His staccato delivery of the intricacies of the plot of “Les Miserables” is fantastic.
Michael O’Hara is versatile and exquisitely funny. His vocal range and his comedic skills are on full display during his parody of Mandy Patinkin, sung to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Dawn Padula’s spoof of Barbara Streisand’s breathy manner of reworking show tunes (as well as Streisand’s smoothing and fussing with her hair) is a comedic gold mine. In ensemble numbers, Padula has a silky-smooth delivery.
One of the many high points of the show is Ashley Roy’s Liza Minnelli impersonation. The giddiness of it all rubs off on the entire audience.
Sharry O’Hare is brassy, boisterous and brilliant in her impersonation of Ethel Merman – who is castigating the Phantom of the Opera for his reliance on a body mounted microphone to make himself heard. “In my day we didn’t need microphones,” says Ethel, “we had voices!” O’Hare is also great as an aging, cigarette-smoking Orphan Annie, hoping that the show will be revived before her red hair turns gray.
Other highlights of the show are a musical duel between Chita Rivera and Rita Murano sung to the tune of “America” from “West Side Story.” Rivera played the role of Anita in the Broadway show but Murano won an Academy Award for the same role in the movie version of the musical.
In the parody of “Rent,” the iconic song “Seasons of Love” becomes “Seasons of Hype,” a lampooning of the praise and hyperbole that can pile up when a hit show becomes a social phenomenon.
The Lakewood Playhouse production of “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” is wildly entertaining and keeps the audience laughing throughout. It makes for a delightful evening of entertainment and will send you back to the original material. I found that it did not put off my enjoyment of the musicals of the last few decades, but made me want to go back and listen to many of them again.
“Forbidden Broadway” runs through Feb. 3. For scheduling information and tickets, visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org or call the box office at (253) 588-0042.