By John Farrell
Forbidden Broadway 2 is a hilariously funny review that takes the best of Broadway musicals and parodies and pokes fun at them, lovingly, yes, but with plenty of cactus-sharp points and even more costume changes (46 all tolled) along the way.
Musical Theatre West is presenting the show at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through April 29, and if you love Broadway shows, and know a little about what goes in backstage and a lot about the larger-than-life personalities that inhabit this very American art form, you’ll love every minute of the show.
And if you don’t recognize everybody and know every insider story (and this critic, presumably well-informed, didn’t recognize or understand every joke,) you’ll still have a great time as the four seasoned professionals, Susan Blakeslee, David Engel, Valerie Fagan and Larry Raben and their very talented Music Director Matthew Smedal take you through more shows than you can name, from Annie to Sound of Music to Evita, from Annie Get Your Gun to Rent, in a musical review that skewers everything from the green-skinned cast members of Wicked to the much-too-wordy sophistication of Stephen Sondheim.
Forbidden Broadway was a long-time tradition in New York: 26 years and frequent alterations as the musical theater scene changed over the decades of its run were part of the tradition. There are classic sketches that have survived the decades (one parodying Carol Channing still holds the stage) and recent ones (like their version of Rent, all done with plenty of satiric intent but also, just at obviously, with love for the institution that in Broadway. All four cast members have starred on Broadway themselves, including in various versions of this show.
Fagan gets the Ethel Merman roles, but she is also Annie (looking for work more than 20 years after she left the cast,) and Rita Moreno (or is Chita Rivera?) in a classic face off based on the song America from West Side Story. Blakeslee is Evita, with stiff arms and all, and a host of other characters, including a drugged-out Judy Garland. Engel is great in drag from La Cage au Folles, which he actually starred in on Broadway. And Raben, whose rubber face is ever-memorable, plays everyone from Yul Brenner in a bald-headed scalp cover from The King and I to Pseudolus, from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
And don’t forget Smedal, who not only plays a wicked piano throughout the evening but stands and sings his own contribution in the second half.
The audience loved the show and gave it two standing ovations, and if they didn’t get every line (especially those about the Connecticut audiences) they didn’t seem to mind.
Tickets are $20-$65. Performances are April 21, 8 p.m., Sunday, April 22 at 2 and 7 p.m., Thursday, April 26 at 8 p.m., Friday, April 27 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 28 at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m.
Details: (562) 856-1999, www.musical.org
Venue: Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Location: 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach