Sunday, July 8, 2018

This side of parodies: District Theatre hosts an uproarious guest, ATI's 'Forbidden Broadway'

The old Theatre on the Square, whose checkered but often distinguished history helped Mass Ave lay claim to being an authentic cultural district, has resurfaced to maintain the neighborhood's credentials, thanks to an association with IndyFringe and support from the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

To celebrate the delicate marriage, the new District Theatre has come up with a nuptial celebration bearing something old, something new, something borrowed, and something just a little bit blue: "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits," a production of Actors Theatre of Indiana, a small professional company resident at Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts.

The "greatest hits" addition to the familiar title indicates that ATI's show, directed and choreographed to a fare-thee-well by Billy Kimmel, is an anthology of sketches and songs from the much-revised 1982 original by Gerard Alessandrini.

A lot of the show's satire takes a viewpoint from the inside, though  observant fans and all kinds of ticket-buyers over the years will understand the "Saucy Fosse" send-up near the start. The segment puts the four-member cast into contortions both sexy and bizarre, and indicates the toll that Bob Fosse's choreography surely takes on dancers' physiques and stamina. Sometimes a production runs into financial trouble before the end of the run, and you might get a downsized "Beauty and the Beast," ending in miniature. There were also digs at the physical demands of "The Lion King," with the fabulous director Julie Taymor the target for burdening actors with vertebra-cracking headgear.

The cast takes the barricades on turntables for a "Les Miz" medley
Exhausted workhorses are skewered: Carol Channing is portrayed as a perpetual Carol Channing tribute artist. A doddering geezer tries to extend his career starring in "Man of La Mancha." A former Annie about to turn 40 finds her professional lifespan ready for the orphanage, or the glue factory, while hoping for one more bright tomorrow.

Of course, show biz presents more than solo burdens — entanglements that the public can only guess at: You probably can't take in even a touring version of "Wicked" without speculating that the two female stars are set up for rivalry that only the most studied professionalism can keep from bursting out onstage. It's a version of "Popular" from that show that has hard-working diva impersonators Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald sparring as Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.

That was among several set-tos staged in the most entertainingly speculative way Saturday night, when I saw the show. Fitzgerald and Collins also struck apt Latin-spitfire poses to represent the career slugfest of Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera, with "America" from "West Side Story" being the obvious vehicle: ("Nothing could be keena than to be the top Latina in the li-i-imelight" is how I might impertinently summarize the tussle of that particular competition in tribute to "Forbidden Broadway"'s infectious spirit.)

For the historically minded, the contrast between Broadway's miked and unmiked eras was captured when Logan Moore, as a vain, thin-voiced, amplified "Phantom of the Opera" star, was upbraided for his reliance on artificial boosting, then retrained, by the spirit of Ethel Merman. It was said that Ethel in her heyday could nail her vocals to the back wall — of the theater across the street. Like hers, careers are often mounted upon hammy pedestals. In this show, Moore creates a hilarious spoof on the overacting of Mandy Patinkin, with his aura derived from Al Jolson and ramped up for the late 20th century and beyond. And need we bring up Barbra, Miss Mannerism? To be sure, this show does.

Broadway lore has long been more than a matter of hits and flops, gold-plated vehicles and rustbuckets, high art and the circus. There is forever the jostling vanity of stars and wannabes. As "Tradition" is tweaked into "Ambition," that all-powerful factor was neatly summed up as we learned what makes thriving as an actor in New York as precarious as in "Fiddler on the Roof"'s Anatevka. In that number, the chameleon excellence of Don Farrell assumes a Tevye persona,
Broadway denizens tell how they  try to scratch out a living.
while his castmates take turns outlining the steps by which fledgling actors turn themselves into soaring raptors along the Great White Way.

Tunes and words are well-matched in the parodies, and all of them received all-out commitment from the cast Saturday night. Brent Marty is the indefatigable music director, spurring the performers on from the piano. Kimmel's choreography had the same dazzling variety and pinpoint aptness as the costumes of Terry Woods and Donna Jacobi. The rest of the crackerjack production team consists of P. Bernard Killian, scenic design/technical direction, and Quinten James, lighting designer and master electrician.

[Photos by Ed Stewart]


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