Theater Review: FORBIDDEN BROADWAY’S GREATEST HITS (North Coast Rep in San Diego/Solano Beach)

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by Milo Shapiro on April 24, 2022

in Theater-San Diego


Musicals are dazzling, vibrant, larger than life…and accordingly, simply ripe for parody. Creator Gerard Alessandrini saw that opportunity in 1982 and created a successful format for an affectionate teasing of the musical industry that has led to many Forbidden Broadway sequels, as new shows to lampoon continue opening. The series is a delightfully funny poke-in-the-ribs at the grand musicals of our lives. This program is a “Greatest Hits” selection, mocking shows from as far back as Hello Dolly! to the very recent Dear Evan Hanson.

 William Selby, Trisha Rapier & Edward Staudenmayer

One of the delights is that Mr. Alessandrini’s writing finds so many different aspects of theatre to spear. Sometimes it’s the costuming (Lion King); sometimes it’s the plot (Once); sometimes it’s the star (Andrea McArdle, decades later, still trying to get cast as Annie); sometimes it’s the music (impossible notes to hit in Les Miz); and so on. This variety keeps it fresh and fun. The exaggerated impersonations (way more for humorous effect than worrying about nailing the person) are a hoot, like having a peek at what Barbra, Ethel, Chita, Richard Kiley and the rest of Broadway folks might really be thinking (why is Barbra on a Broadway list? Come find out!). That said, Cathy Barnett‘s spot-on Liza is hysterical; Liza herself is so big that you don’t have to go any bigger to get a laugh if you do a good impersonation, which Barnett does triumphantly.

William Selby, Cathy Barnett, Edward Staudenmayer & Trisha Rapier

William Selby‘s direction is amazingly fast-paced; the delightful franticness onstage and the presumed chaos of costume and make-up changes backstage staggers the attendees’ minds. Costume design by Dustin Cross is inspired, every step of the way.

Front - Cathy Barnett: Second Row Trisha Rapier & Edward Staudenmayer
Back- William Selby

Mr. Selby does double-duty as one of only four players in this show, which also includes Trisha Rapier (best remembered as Barbra) and the tremendously versatile Edward Staudenmayer. Add on musical director and perhaps the most fervent pianist ever, Elan McMahan, who only gets to stop playing for about five seconds in the whole show, when Liza almost acknowledges Ms. McMahan, but then completely steals her spotlight.

(front) Cathy Barnett, Trisha Rapier, (back) Edward Staudenmayer, William Selby

The only small downside really is that the opening number doesn’t set us up for the expectation that the show will be as good as it is. As the judges on American Idol constantly say, “So much is in picking the right song.” While it’s understandable that the corny opening bit explains what we’re going to see, the song really doesn’t showcase how good some of them are and actually accentuates some vocal weaknesses. Ironically, the show ends on a reprise of it, but by then, we’ve fallen in love with the four of them all so we just don’t mind.

William Selby

The target audience here is clearly folks who’ve enjoyed a lot of the mainstream musicals of our time. You don’t have to have seen all of the 20 to 30-odd shows that are satirized to enjoy this production. For instance, this reviewer has never seen Frozen or The Lion King (I know, I know…I will…), but a joke about Disney relishing production value over content, and a bit about tremendously heavy costume animal heads that cause spinal injuries, were comprehensible and funny. Some jokes could go over heads if the shows haven’t been seen; for instance, if you’ve never seen Les Misérable, you’re probably not going to get why the actors appear to be moving in circles all the time.

Bottom line: if you’ve seen many of the biggies like Fiddler, Phantom, Annie, and West Side Story (even in film format), you’re certain to enjoy this great production by the NCR team.

photos by Aaron Rumley

Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits
North Coast Rep
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Wed at 7, Th & Fr at 8, Sat 2 & 8, Sun at 2 & 7
ends on May 15, 2022
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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