For nearly 40 years, "Forbidden Broadway" has been satirizing popular musicals and the people who bring them to life.
During that time, the show has been updated several times to include more timely spoofs, resulting in a productions spanning 60 years of Broadway history. While it's comprehensive, it's also burdened by its scope, with jokes that will at any one time be lost on half the audience, and that's assuming an audience of music theater diehards. Aside from dated aspects, the quality of the song parodies is generally very strong, with crafty wordplay and insightful criticism all delivered in tribute to, as much as at the expense of, the musicals featured.
Forbidden Broadway stages at 8 p.m. Apirl 29-May 2 at 2:30 p.m. May 3 at Jewel Box Theatre, First Christian Church, 3700 N. Walker.
The opening "Chicago" parody was lacking in energy and did very little to ingratiate the audience to the tone of the show, as most of the jokes fell flat. However, strong showings in the next three sections "? involving a washed-up actress still holding on to her childhood performance of "Annie," a great send-up of Steven Sondheim called "Into the Words," and a hilarious performance by Doug Rankin in drag as Carol Channing "? got things back on track for a while until "Forbidden" eventually collapsed under its own ambition. A big problem is that it just keeps going on and on, long after the jokes start to lose their charm, leaving both the audience and actors exhausted.
The other problem is the cast, whose vocal talent was surprisingly limited for such a demanding musical. Many a famous Broadway diva, from Liza Minnelli to Mandy Patinkin, is lampooned during "Forbidden Broadway," but sometimes it's hard to know when the cast was making fun of bad singers or just singing badly. The men in the cast made a concerted effort to make up for a lack of range with lots of energy, while the girls came off as a little too low-key. To be fair, however, it's no easy task playing to an audience that was itself not very energetic.
Scott Hynes did some good work in the tap-dance opener and in the "Phantom of the Opera" parody, "Mucous in the Night," until his voice began to give out in Act 2. He also got some of the biggest laughs of the show with a bit of clever improvisation when, while dressed as a flying monkey from "The Wizard of Oz," his tail was pulled off, sending him into to a fit of shock. Hanna Mobley-Housel had some standout songs as both the aforementioned Annie, and as The Wicked Witch of the West. Rankin shined in a series of character roles, most of them in drag "? a gag that also got old before the end.
The unsung hero of the show was accompanist Tom Nix, who tirelessly played through nearly three dozen songs during the course of the production.
While it's nice to see Jewel Box take on a musical with more adult humor, "Forbidden Broadway" feels like a strange match for the company "? one that unfortunately yielded very mixed results.