by Gerard Alessandrini
Directed and Designed by Michael Newton-Brown
Musical Direction by Michael Sebastian
Venice Theatre Cabaret
140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice, 941-488-1115
To Sept. 22, 2008

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


Seems like the Suncoast can’t get enough of parody, summer through fall. Menopause came first to Sarasota, followed by The Musical of Musicals. Now Venice (south Sarasota County) stages the latest regional version of the Off-Broadway show that started it all. And again, there’s a terrific performing ensemble: Bobbi Eschenbach, Heather Kopp, Charles McKenzie, and Craig Weiskerger. In at both start and finish, pianist Michael Sebastian here becomes, as the French would say, an homme orchestre. Just next to the black-tinsel-curtained box of a stage, scrunched up at edge of the audience, he’s as unerring in his demeanor as in his music.
Forbidden Broadway spoofs well-known stars as well as new to long-running shows. Eschenbach looks slightly cross-eyed, quivering, then shouts “One Note” not like the song’s Johnny but Liza Minnelli, constantly invoking memories of her Mama. She captures Carol Channing’s saliva-powered, extended line endings of Dolly Levi’s famed songs on what the accompanying guys bemoan as yet another tour. Long, sleek blond hair helps her turn into Barbra celebrating “People” while keeping her distance from them behind her mic. Her voice expands most as Ethel Merman-- to the tune of “Just in Love”—instructing McKenzie’s soft voiced, unmasked Phantom on how to project. She’s well matched with Kopp as Chita Rivera vs. Rita Moreno vying to be the best West Side Story Anita. Kopp is tops as the floozy that the too-old star of Annie has become and as the Wicked witch “Defying Subtlety” flanked by her male monkeys. Weiskerger scores with his ingratiating Mandy Patinkin, overflowing with emotion. Pouncing through the audience, a pawed and tailed McKenzie revels, “I Enjoy Being a Cat.”
Of the ensemble numbers, Les Miz remains a favorite, with the performers seemingly coming off the turntable created by Jim Hoskins’ choreography and Shawn Watkins’ lighting. Stephen Sondheim gets his comeuppance from performers trying to get “Into the Words” and to the end of his musical phrases. Overblown praise for Rent as it closes its long run prompts the cast to bemoan a “Season of Hype.” A Spamalot parody uses an actual Camelot melody and “The Song That Goes Like This” becomes “The Song They Stole From Us.” From Fiddler, “Tradition” features four actors highlighting their Ambition, Rejection, Projection, Complexion, and then how they got Attention. Finally, after an over-the-top measure of Hairspray, the Chorus Line proclaims “What We Did for Laughs”—and they sure did. And do.
A large array of character-defining costumes is the work of Nicholas Hartman. Dorian Boyd is Sound Designer. Sharon Fieser is stage manager; Tech Director: Chris McVicker; Production Manager: Mark Dukes. 95 mins. w/15 min. intermission.

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