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Review: In ‘Forbidden Broadway,’ the hits keep on coming and coming and coming

Cathy Barnett, Trisha Rapier, William Selby and Edward Staudenmayer in "Forbidden Broadway" at North Coast Rep.
Cathy Barnett (counterclockwise from bottom left), Trisha Rapier, William Selby and Edward Staudenmayer in “Forbidden Broadway” at North Coast Rep.
(Courtesy photo by Aaron Rumley)

The ‘Forbidden Broadway’ revue, a concept now 40 years old, is the brainchild of playwright-composer Gerard Alessandrini, who has a knack for skewering Broadway’s smash hits that is unparalleled

From Merman to “Mormon,” North Coast Repertory Theatre’s “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” parodies the Great White Way with glee. Only in this show, a fast-moving cabaret of quick costume changes and ill-fitting wigs, could the legendary Ethel, star of “Gypsy,” and “Book of Mormon”/”South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone grace the same stage.

Also appearing in this likable parade of silliness: Bebe Neuwirth, Barbra Streisand and, reaching far back in Broadway lore, Carol Channing and Robert Goulet.

The “Forbidden Broadway” revue, a concept now 40 years old, is the brainchild of playwright-composer Gerard Alessandrini. His knack for skewering Broadway’s smash hits and for commenting on its craven tendencies to dumb down for and rip off its customers is unparalleled.

Extensive knowledge of Broadway blockbusters is not required to enjoy North Coast Rep’s “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” but it helps. After all, to recognize parody you have to be familiar with what’s being parodied. That shouldn’t be too difficult with this show, which spoofs universally known musicals like “The Lion King,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia!”

The only relatively recent Broadway shows sent up are “Frozen” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” the latter spoofed in “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” as “Evan Has-Been.”

At North Coast Rep, William Selby directs a production that features himself, Cathy Barnett, Trisha Rapier and Edward Staudenmayer, on stage alone or in various combinations. Musical director Elan McMahan provides accompaniment on piano throughout.

As with any revue, some segments are hilarious, like an inspired lampooning of the painfully earnest musical “Once,” while others such as the ventriloquism number from “Chicago” misfire.

The full-cast indictment of the pompous “Les Miserables” is a highlight, as is Barnett and Rapier’s dueling “Chita/Rita” take on the rivalry between Latina stars Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno.

It’s in individual moments that the “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” players stand out. Especially Rapier, whose nanny-garbed “Mary Poppins” croons “Feed the ‘Burbs,” a ballad to all the Connecticut and Long Island visitors to Broadway who willingly pay big bucks for lightweight fare. Rapier later portrays an emotive, hair-tossing, cross-eyed Barbra Streisand.

Liza Minnelli, meanwhile, has many impersonators, female and male, but Barnett holds her own as a manic Liza, even venturing into the audience for laughs.

In this show, a grown-up but still red curled Little Orphan Annie reinvents “Tomorrow,” cigarette in hand, and “Man of La Mancha’s” “The Impossible Dream” becomes a case of trying to sing “The Impossible Song.”

Plus spoofs of “Jersey Boys,” “Avenue Q,” “Wicked,” “Cats” (still?) and more.

It’s tiresome after a while in spite of the talent and stamina of the performers and Dustin Cross’ costumes that are so faithfully evocative of the various original Broadway musicals. The lengthier skits, those parodying “Les Miz,” “Once” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” work best as they take advantage of all four actors’ abilities at the same time and allow for more thoughtful appreciation of Alessandrini’s lyrical satire.

But the hits keep on coming and coming just the same and, like taxis for hire on 42nd Street, they’re gone before you know it.

“Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through May 22.

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Tickets: $54-$65

Phone: (858) 481-1055

Online: northcoastrep.org

Coddon is a freelance writer.


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