Drolly: the cast of Stageworks/Hudson’s Forbidden Broadway.
Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
and created by Gerard Alessandrini, directed by Billy Kimmel,
musical numbers staged by Billy Kimmel StageWorks/Hudson,
through July 12
Broadway is full of love: for musical theater, for entertainment,
for the craft of acting, the talent for dancing, and the art
of singing. People who truly love musical theater will be
smitten by this 90-minute Valentine to musical theater. People
who love to be entertained will be thrilled with this 27-year
Off-Broadway veteran, which has been honored in the past with
a Tony Award, an Obie Award, and a Drama Desk Award. People
who admire ensemble acting, deft dancing, and eclectic singing
will exalt the talents of Forbidden Broadway’s four-person
cast. This pastiche parody is like a beautiful love affair.
Of course, as with most love affairs, Forbidden Broadway
has a fair amount of slap and tickle, playful stings and bites,
gratuitous displays, and the odd moment tied to a picnic table
while covered in maple syrup, but such occasional awkward
moments are the stuff true love is made on.
Briskly paced, the 20 scenes of StageWorks/Hudson’s regional
premiere of Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
(there are various compilations of this recently closed show,
repeatedly rewritten by creator Gerard Alessandrini as Broadway’s
follies, excesses, and successes rolled out season by season)
tumble by in a Vaudevillian pattern of blackouts and scenes.
From the opening number, a parody of the Great White Way,
Forbidden Broadway simultaneously skewers and admires
shows from Chicago (an excellent number called “Glossy
Fosse” uses the tune of “Razzle Dazzle” and features such
lyrics as “Saucy Fosse’em/Spread the fingers/Wear a bowler
hat/Though the set looks shoddy/Everybody likes a naked body”)
to Disney’s The Lion King (“The Circle of Mice” sums
up all you need to know about the Magic Kingdom’s aesthetic
with the concluding “ker-ching”).
Billy Kimmel, an Off-Broadway veteran of Forbidden Broadway,
serves as this production’s director/choreographer and
as a quarter of the the four-member cast of actor-singer-dancers
(all equally adept at each). Molly Parker-Myers proves a spot-on
Bebe Neuwirth impressionist and offers a killer Chita Rivera
in a West Side Story lampoon. Stephen Joshua Thompson’s
“pussy on the stairs” and pose at the beginning of “I Enjoy
Being a Cat” killed the audience with laughter. And Molly
Marie Walsh was pure perfection; her washed-up grown-up Annie
singing “Revive me, revive Me . . . before my red hair turns
gray,” Rita Moreno in the “Chita/Rita” West Side Story
duel (“I’m a talented actress/So long as you stay on the
mattress”) and Liza Minnelli in “Liza One Note” all earned
their standing ovations.
While the laughter poured out like a cold front from the west,
the expertise displayed in the Les Mis medley made
me applaud the cast’s serious talents even as I kept chuckling
at the dead-on skewering of the musical. Just as excellent
is the ensemble number “Ambition,” parodying Fiddler on
the Roof. The cast was accompanied to perfection by pianist
and music director Kurt Perry, and special note must be paid
to “wig stylist” Stephen Joshua Thompson, without whom the
sight gags wouldn’t have achieved their pop.
The ancient Greeks stated that the comedic playwright gives
a barb-wire enema to hypocrites. (It sounds better in the
original Greek). Freud wrote that humor was a path to the
truth. (It sounds more profound in the original Freud). But
Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 sounds better
than the originals it mocks, mimics, and manhandles, even
pulling off that Chaucerian special: apologizing for vulgarly
exposing hypocrites, frauds, and the powerful even as you
expose, unapologetically, the vulgarity of the powerful, frauds,
and hypocrites. Here’s hoping that StageWorks/Hudson doesn’t
fail to bring Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol 1
back for a deserved encore, or leap upon the chance to produce
Volume 2 as soon as it’s available.
A.R Gurney, directed by John Tillinger
Williamstown Theatre Festival, Main Stage, through July 12
Sitting through this bit of childishness, which was chosen
out of all the plays in all the world to open the Williamstown
Theatre Festival’s 55th season, leaves one feeling far more
restive than festive. Perhaps this is an attempt to give Williamstown
audiences a sense of the familiar with a play by A.R. Gurney,
who has a long history with the festival. Or perhaps the raison
d’être lies in saving money (it is being produced in association
with the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut). Whatever
the familial or financial considerations, it squanders a quarter
of the main stage season with theater as nourishing as a piece
of cold, desiccated white bread.
Written 35 years ago, the characters are Gurney’s usual WASPs,
unsuccessfully struggling, in this case, with the aftereffects
of their repressive upbringings, which have left them emotionally
stunted and unhappy despite their lives of relative privilege.
As usual, the setting is New England—this time the terrace
of a summer home on an island off the coast of Massachusetts
during a Fourth of July family gathering.
James Noone has designed a well- manicured set with realistic
trees and gardens, lightly weathered shingles, and glimpses
into the house’s interior that remain as elusive as the emotional
centers of three of the play’s four characters. Grand but
sterile, it is perfectly at home in the ’62 Center’s soulless
main theater. Delicately lit by Rui Rita with gradual transitions
from morning to afternoon to evening, the whole tasteful affair
is rather more substantial than the play itself, which is
about a different set of affairs altogether. It is so slight
an experience, such a nonevent, that one wonders why one is
sitting in the WTF as opposed to in front of a television
screen. Live theater? Nah.
In the case of James Waterston’s performance as Randy, dead
would be preferable. True, Randy is an irritating man who
remains petulantly childish in ways that beggar the imagination,
but Waterston is merely annoying and lacking in sufficient
depth to make Randy’s severely arrested development at all
believable, except in his postpubescent randiness.
Judith Light’s widowed matriarch is sporadically humorous.
Simply called Mother, she has led a Chekhovian life of quiet
desperation, and her own Fourth of July fireworks offer a
temporary respite from the dry restraint of all that has come
before. Seemingly channeling Katharine Hepburn at moments,
Light perhaps drew inspiration from her character’s professed
love of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the character that Hepburn played
in The Lion in Winter. But this is really Chekhov lite;
while Mother may have claws, they are mostly retracted, and
her uncompelling and unrealized existence has scant interior
Given her surroundings, it is a small miracle that Katie Finneran
turns Barbara, the daughter, into a living, flesh-and-blood
character. It is really through the sheer force of her sharp,
intelligent performance that we feel the angst that has been
stirring beneath her composed exterior, and when she finally
makes a maternally incorrect remark, it results in dark laughter
that is well-earned.
Continual references to children’s children, ironic constructs
meant to point up the immaturity of their parents, become
wearing. I’d sooner watch a rerun of HBO’s In Treatment,
any half-hour of which offers far more character insight than
the whole of Gurney’s dysfunctional Children.