Arts & Culture

'Forbidden Broadway' pokes affectionate fun at hit musicals

Three of the four-person cast of ‘Forbidden Broadway.’
Three of the four-person cast of ‘Forbidden Broadway.’ COURTESY PHOTO

'Forbidden Broadway' has been spoofing musical theater greats — shows, songs and stars — for three decades, changing with the times and the shows on Broadway stages.

The performers, two men and two women, change as well, as “Forbidden Broadway” perennially tours the country and the world. In telephone conversations from New York, three of the performers and the musical director who are bringing the revue to the Clark Center described the comic fun for audiences and for themselves.

The satirical pieces are short, fast-paced, and funny. Performer Gina Kreiezmar describes it as “eye candy” because of the costumes and facial expressions, and said she loves singing the clever lyrics.

Gerard Alessandrini, designer, director and lyricist, and producer John Freedson work with a stable of actors. As tour dates come up, they decide which Broadway shows to skewer. The musical numbers, more than 20, include take-offs of old favorites, like “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Man of La Mancha,” and newer shows like “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” and “Jersey Boys.” Some of the numbers spoof the style of a particular star such as Carol Channing, Ethel Merman or Yul Brynner.

“There are about 20 of us to pick and choose from,” explained Kevin B. McGlynn. “We have all done the show over the years, but maybe not with the same people, and each performer has a different take on the numbers, and the players are different, so the show constantly changes.”

Craig Laurie describes the actor pool as “a big family, brothers and sisters” and the show as “people cutting, up and making people laugh.”

The laughs come from the lyrics and each performer’s comic style. The songs are sung to the original melodies, with new lyrics. This is allowable under a “parody clause” in licensing contracts, McGlynn explained. For example, “The Impossible Dream,” from “Man of La Mancha” becomes “The Impossible Song.” One of McGlynn’s favorite roles is as Harvey Fierstein, who played Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.”

“It’s vocally challenging, and everyone likes to see a man in a dress,” he said.

“Forbidden Broadway” has also affected the way he reacts when he sees the “real” productions.

“When I saw the original ‘Aida,’ I laughed my head off. I couldn’t help laughing.”

Laurie said the jokes are done affectionately, and the original performers can usually smile about it. But they are not always amused, noted Kreiezmar, who plays Mary Poppins, among many others. About 15 years ago, Julie Andrews complained, and the Oscar Hammerstein family contacted the director.

“They worked it out somehow,” Kreiezmar said, and Julie Andrews is still part of the show.

Carol Channing, another Kreiezmar diva, doesn’t mind being spoofed, she said, and sometimes comes to the shows when she’s in the area.

“Ninety nine percent of people loved being spoofed,” she said.

Kreiezmar has made a career out of “Forbidden Broadway,” traveling all over the world and the country with the show. She started out as an understudy to both women in the ensemble, so by the time she became a member of the cast, she knew all the women’s numbers.

“I’m the big belter on the leading-lady track because of my vocal cords, but I can also do the ingénue, comedy, the whole gamut,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be able to play leading Broadway roles.”

McGlynn and Laurie join the cast when they are available. They are both working musical actors in New York. Jeanne Montano is the other woman in this version of the show.

Catherine Stornetta, who was born in Santa Maria and at one time was rehearsal pianist at PCPA, is musical director. She accompanies the actors on piano. “This is the most fun you can have playing the piano,” she said. “I get to be the orchestra.”

Instead of being asked to be unobtrusive, as pianists often are, she is encouraged to produce the carpet of sound of an orchestra.

“I play as largely and as lustily as I can, and I get to play the best tunes on Broadway,” Stornetta said.

She and the actors agree that you don’t have to be a musical theater buff or be familiar with all the productions parodied to enjoy the show.

“You just have to be alive and aware,” McGlynn said.

Most of the shows are well known. For example, “Annie” sings about being 30 and unemployed.

“And ‘Lion King’ has been plastered all over TV,” Laurie noted. “It’s just a lot of fun and silliness.”