Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Theater review part deux: Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits at Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas
Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits is, all in all, a sublime excursion.
After seeing Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits (presented by Uptown Players at Kalita Humphreys Theater through August 29), you might think that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, perhaps satire’s the most effective form of mockery. That being said, maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Initially, I thought the pervasive use of portraits by (preeminent caricaturist) Albert Hirschfeld was just so much window-dressing. Then it struck me that the strategy behind caricature was most likely the formula behind the show. The artist gleans a few prominent features of the subject in question, then places them at the center of the "cartoon." Of course, Hirschfeld understood this principle extravagantly -- his portrayals of stars were witty and truly, captured the essence of the performer. They were both tribute and sly ribbing.
We could debate whether a genre such as caricature even permits such a luxury as subtlety. Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits does not do anything by halves, but no matter. It’s smart, energetic, sometimes wickedly amusing and others, howlingly funny. By its very nature the piece requires versatility on the part of the eight-member cast, and while every single actor doesn’t always nail (or should I saw skewer?) each target (ranging from Sondheim to Les Miserables to Mandy Patinkin to Cats to Liza Minelli), they are accurate and clever enough to have you giggling or roaring most of the time.
Director BJ Cleveland has assembled a team of performers with enough verve, cynicism, gusto, and mastery to successfully carry this demanding, giddy, send-up with style, and no dearth of costume changes. (How do they do it?) What I found so impressive (as if there were one thing) was writer/creator Gerard Allesandrini’s ability to poke fun so thoroughly and imaginatively without feeling toxic or vindictive. Like Hirschfeld, he found the most salient aspects and took it from there.
Call on Carol, his commentary on the Channing’s perennial turn in Hello Dolly, is as good an example as any. Wendy Welch, sporting huge, goggle glasses and enormously red, glossy lips, is brought in on a wheelchair, and it just keeps getting better. Welch’s Channing is pitch perfect, and the fact that I (and I imagine, most of the audience) adore the real Carol Channing just made it funnier. Welch (and Cleveland, and Allesandrini) created a comic distillation of Channing that was flawless in its chemistry, and setting the bar very high for the rest of the show.
Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits is, all in all, a sublime excursion. There are a few small nits. The second act isn’t as strong as the first, but there are excellent gags and showstoppers throughout. Impersonation is a skill unto itself and very often can depend on the luck of the draw. Melissa Farmer poured herself into a spoof of Liza Minnelli ("Liza One Note") and curiously, looked more like Marie Osmond. Tyce Green was amazing in his turn as Patti Lupone ("Everything’s Coming Up Patti") not so much because he was channeling Lupone, as his metamorphosis into a formidable drag persona. Like Dame Edna Everidge it was like he’d moved into another realm.
The cast of Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits is so phenomenal I hesitate to single out particular numbers, so I’ll limit myself to just a few. I am not resorting to hyperbole when I say that each one is superb. I’ve already mentioned Wendy Welch and Tyce Green. Shane Strawbridge (one of DFW’s most hardworking and gifted actors) was inspired in his digs at Mandy Patinkin in "Somewhat Over Indulgent" and Harvey Feirstein in "Can’t Stop the Camp." Sara Shelby-Martin and Beth Albright couldn’t have been better flouncing their dresses as dueling Anitas in West Side Story’s “America.” Drew Kelly was inspired in his numbers from Cats.This article previously appeared on Examiner.com.
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
Christopher Soden is a theater critic who also writes for content partner The Column.
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