For all the jabs taken at musical theater—that it’s overwrought, laborious, self-indulgent—few laugh as earnestly at it as those who perform it.
This makes the trip to “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits,” the spoof revue now at MusicalFare’s Premier Cabaret, all the more delicious. If you ever rolled your eyes at a dramatic interpretation, or felt your mouth agape, in awe, at a long-held high note, this show will hit your buttons.
Gerard Alessandrini’s hit revue has been parodying Broadway musicals and personalities in its off-Broadway run since 1982. It’s updated every year or two to keep the material fresh, and in every new edition, the same general thesis makes an appearance: that Broadway just ain’t what it used to be.
In one of the show’s sharpest bits, Dan Urtz, as the Phantom, sings softly to us about his signature hushed voice, when Nicole Marrale Cimato's Ethel Merman struts through the audience—a la “Gypsy’s” Mama Rose—and implores him to sing out, Louise. She didn’t need microphones in her day; she belted to the back row, and effortlessly. Taking her cue, he turns the volume up to 11, just as absurdly as he started.
You can't tone down musical theater. It doesn't work that way.
Urtz and Cimato are joined by Maria Droz and Marc Sacco, and music director Stephen Piotrowski on piano. The five of them work their butts off.
Sacco is in prime form here, handily serving a “somewhat overindulgent” Mandy Patinkin and souvenir-hawking Cameron Mackintosh with pronounced style and serious vocal power. Despite this being a silly show, performed to the sounds of drinks being served, this is among Sacco’s best work. He is a pro.
Utz, who might be new to some MusicalFare audiences, has a quiet and steady presence. Keep your eyes on him, though, as he might suddenly make you blurt out an unexpected cackle. He does a lot with that smile and "Cats" outfit.
Droz and Cimato are two of the funniest stage performers in town. Each has a full bag of tricks up their sleeves that they use with expertise. Their work here is pretty amazing. Droz, who sounded on opening night to be perhaps under the weather, powered through with aplomb. Cimato proves over and over again how adept she is at Golden Era-style bravado. Her Carol Channing, and Droz’s Liza Minnelli, are just plain nuts.
Besides these two icons, there are very few proper impersonations in the show. But there are plenty of successful deliveries. Don't worry about accuracy. Mimicry isn't always the point.
Michael Wachowiak makes a wonderful directorial debut here (he also choreographs). It’s clear—to me, at least—where he turned up the inside jokes and where he reconstructed classic comic formulas. If some of the punchlines seem tailored for the theater in-crowd and less for general audiences, it’s understandable. Some references might not land for all audiences; you’ll know where the drama club veterans are seated.
Some of the written material is alienating, too. References to casting scandals and show business headlines lost their edge over time. But Wachowiak, and this supremely funny ensemble, have masterfully seized opportunities to stretch, exaggerate and sing these Louises out to the rafters.
“Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” by Gerard Alessandrini
3 stars (out of four)
Presented by MusicalFare Theatre through Nov. 4 in Premier Cabaret, 4380 Main St., Amherst. Tickets, for $30, are available online, by phone and at the box office.
*Read more theater reviews by clicking the Story Topic, below.