Theatre Review: ATI’s “Forbidden Broadway”

Cast and director of ATI's Forbidden Broadway

Last Thursday night I met a new theatre buddy at the Oak Hill Mansion in Carmel to see Actors’ Theatre of Indiana present “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits Vol.1.”  This spoof show was created and written by Gerard Alessandrini.  Bill Kimmel, who performed in the show while it was running in New York City, directed and choreographed ATI’s production.

Kimmel also performed in it the first weekend of ATI’s run.  As of April 8, Jeff Stockberger will take his place as one of the four Leading Players.   I loved Kimmel’s work on Thursday night, but I have been a big Stockberger fan ever since I saw him in “Run for Your Wife” at Beef and Boards last year.  I may have to go back and see this show again later in the run, just to see it with Stockberger.

The other three Leading Players are ATI’s co-founders Don Farrell, Judy Fitzgerald, and Cynthia Collins.  Kurt Perry is the Pianist.

They are all…oh, my goodness, they are all so very funny!  I laughed until I HURT.  Leaving the venue after the show, I felt as spent and relaxed as if I had just been to aerobics class.

You don’t have to be up on the latest Broadway hits to enjoy this version of “Forbidden Broadway.” You don’t even have to be a theatre buff.  Most of the shows that this show spoofs are shows that not only played on Broadway but have also been done around here by community theatres and/or have come through Indy as part of a Broadway series and/or have been made into popular movies.  Even so, of the many shows that were spoofed, I had only seen three.  (What can I say?  I really only became a theatre groupie two years ago.)

It didn’t matter.  I laughed a lot anyway.  For example, is there some sort of endlessly revolving stage piece in the official version of “Les Miserables?”  Apparently.  But even though I have never seen any version of that show, I roared with laughter at the four actors in this show pretending to rotate on and off a huge, imaginary turntable as they sang.

I loved the fact that there are many layers of humor to this show.  There is a lot of funny physical humor and sight gags.  The set is not very complicated, but the props are a hoot.  (Cynthia Collins is the master of properties.)  There is a lot of easy-to-understand verbal humor in the songs.  There are hilarious impersonations of people I had only seen on TV or in the movies, including Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, and more.  There is an amazing number of lightning-fast and funny costume changes.  (Costume design by Terry Woods.)

Even more impressive is the fact that all of this is being done by only four people – four people who also sing and dance exceptionally well in addition to their comedic skills.  Four people who very specifically delineate dozens of characters from more than twenty shows.  Plus one piano player who is perfectly in tune with the players as well as with the music.

In fact, someone told me that the reason more community theatres aren’t allowed to do this show is because community theatres would not have four actor-singers strong enough to carry the whole show, so they would be tempted to cast different actors for each segment.  The people who hold the rights to the show insist on knowing ahead of time who will be cast so that the strength of the show will not be diluted.  It is a show for four people, period.

I don’t know if that is fact or just a community theatre urban legend, but either way it makes sense.  You have to have four strong, versatile, highly talented performers to give the show its high energy.

In any case, one of the press releases that I received from ATI quotes director Billy Kimmel as saying that “the Carmel production is one of the first authorized stagings of Forbidden Broadway since the show ended its most recent New York run.”

Actors’ Theatre of Indiana is a professional company that uses fulltime professional performance artists with lots of professional experience, so the quality is always very good.  In this show it is excellent.

The other thing I wanted to say about this show is that although it makes fun of a wide variety of shows and people, none of it made me feel uncomfortable or ashamed for laughing.  I wouldn’t call it a “wholesome” show, exactly – it is definitely sexy, and definitely for adult and teen audiences only – but it is not mean-spirited.

I enjoyed the venue, too.  It was also new to me.  The Mansion at Oak Hill is lovely – a great place for a wedding reception.  For “Forbidden Broadway,” there is a small raised platform in one corner of the large (but still intimate) dining room.  The back wall of the stage area is covered in long pieces of tinsel that glitter in the light.  The large round dining tables are elegantly set with cloth covers, swan-folded napkins, china, and three forks.  (Don’t worry: just start from the outside and work your way in.)

My new friend and I shared our table with Lou Harry from the Indianapolis Business Journal and his wife and daughter, plus another mother and adult son.  The mother was treating her son to the show for his birthday.  I shamelessly gave them my blog card.  (Hi, Rosie and Bob!)

I’m sorry: I forgot to ask if the menu will be the same every time.  What we had was yummy.  We were offered coffee or iced tea and served salads and rolls at the table.  Then we were invited to go through a short buffet line.  There were three kinds of vegetables:  roasted red potatoes, green beans, and a colorful medley of carrots and other root vegetables cut into strips.  There were two kinds of entrée: chicken covered in a creamy sauce and giant, cheese-stuffed pasta shells in a tomato sauce.  A dessert table held just-the-right-size slices of several different kinds of cake. 

It was all served by cheerful, competent, unobtrusive servers.

The show has two parts, separated by an intermission.  I got to meet Jeff Stockberger during the break!  In addition to acting in the show, he is also the stage manager.  That night he was running the lights, too.  Don Drennen will take over running the lights beginning April 8.  The lighting design is by Don Farrell.

The understudy is Gary DeMumbrum.  I wonder if he serves as understudy for the female Leading Players as well as the male.  What a job that would be!

I double-checked with the ATI people that this weekend was the only weekend for the show.  Yes:  from now on through May 13, 2009, performances will only be on Wednesday evenings.   I thought this was odd at first, but really, this makes for a great opportunity to see what ATI shows are like in terms of quality.  I bet potential audience members will have fewer conflicts on Wednesday nights, and since you’re out by 9:15 pm and feeling great, it’s easy enough to get up and go to work the next morning.

Yup, if I can get tickets, I am definitely going to see this one again.

For more information or to make a reservation, please call the box office at 317-843-9850.  Actors’ Theatre Of Indiana’s production of “Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits Vol.1” runs through May 13, 2009.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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