‘Forbidden Broadway’ was a celebration.
Have you ever wanted to hold a mirror up to the glitz and glamour of Broadway? Songs with unnaturally high notes, acting with just a total lack of subtlety and what actually happens to curly red-haired women when they’re too old to play Annie? ‘Forbidden Broadway’ takes Broadway’s classic hits and parodies them in a seamless succession of satire.
Tucked away in the back of the Casa Mia Italian Restaurant in Ipswich is a small performance stage surrounded by dinner tables and a bar. Reminiscent of ‘Underground Broadway’ or ‘54 Below’ (for Broadway fans), the space in Casa Mia lends itself well to a cosy, casual and comedic night out; much like an open mic night at the local pub or a cabaret show. The drinks flowed and an Italian buffet was served up to the eagerly waiting audience. Whilst this merriment in Restaurant Theatre can also be hindered by the kitchen and bar directly behind the audience, the ambient sound never distracted from or overpowered the performers on stage. In addition, the close proximity to the audience never seemed to phase the performers and they relished in mingling amongst the crowd and singing to the audience.
‘Forbidden Broadway’ was originally written in 1982 by Gerard Allesandrini to lightly parody the razzle-dazzle of Broadway and its stars. This production of ‘Forbidden Broadway (Greatest Hits – Volume 1) was a celebration of some of Alessandrini’s “best of”. Due to his parodies dating back to the 80s, a couple of the spoofs felt slightly dated to a 2020 audience (notably ‘Liza One Note’ – a Liza Minelli spoof or the Barbara Streisand ‘Back to Broadway’ sending up her album from the 90s) but were balanced with more contemporary shows like ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Rent’ so maintained appeal to a modern audience.
The six performers consisting of Andrew Alley, Roger Davy, Nikki Fagan, Gary Farmer-Trickett, Sandra Harman and Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga all had a share of the limelight with songs they could immerse themselves in as they mimicked Broadway icons or the characters they played.
The night’s stand out performance came from Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga. Kenny-Sumiga‘s powerhouse voice bounded throughout the restaurant as she skilfully embodied each caricature she acted. Particular favourites were her spot-on Idina Menzel impression, as she parodied Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ in the song ‘Defying Subtlety’ and her chain-smoking Annie impression as a washed-up child performer. Former ‘Ten Tenor’ Roger Davy also shone with his powerful vocals (especially in his roles for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Mis’) and his belts of the higher harmonies were sublime. Andrew Alley expertly commanded the audience, particularly in his ‘Les Mis’ parody rueing how high the song ‘Bring Him Home’ forces him to sing. Gary Farmer-Trickett shone in his impressions, especially his ‘Somewhat Overindulgent’ rendition of Mandy Patinkin’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Sandra Harman was outrageously funny in her ‘Hello Dolly’ repertoire and her sparring with Kenny-Sumiga in ‘Chita/Rita’ which saw Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno trying to “out Anita” the other in ‘West Side Story’. Rounding out the cast, Nikki Fagan added her sweet tone to the ensemble numbers and was endearing as little Cosette in ‘More Miserables’.
Doubling as director and musical director is no mean feat and Sean Fagan should be commended for executing a cohesive show. Fagan’s strength as a musical director was emphasised through the beautiful harmonies his cast commanded and their timing in notoriously difficult-to-sing Broadway tunes (Sondheim I’m looking at you…). He kept all the songs true to their original format but with slight changes to keep with the satirical nature of the show.
Lynette Wockner’s choreography was skilfully prepared for the small stage and enriched each song to create a full and polished performance. It was particularly enchanting when there were a few performers on stage and they earnestly shuffled across the stage to make room for others, and change roles in a choreographed and theatrical way.
Unfortunately, due to the lacking acoustic in the restaurant and the use of choir mics to sound the stage, at times the performers were difficult to hear. Therefore, some of the more wordy and witty lyrics were missed by the audience and the jokes fell on deaf ears. At times, clearer diction was needed to compensate for the poor sound but considering the circumstances, the performers did an admirable job of trying to maintain projection.
The set by Andrew Alley, Ian Johnson and Chris Art was simple and charming in keeping with a cabaret-style show. The word ‘Broadway’ was illuminated in bright lights with the ‘D’ slightly skewed which really set the tone for the show’s satirical pizzazz. Further, the costumes provided by various Community Theatre Companies around South-East Queensland were truthful to each show they parodied and added to the fun and flamboyancy of the night.
The Casa Mia Productions’ creative team should be highly commended for providing a full night’s entertainment with jokes to suit both the Broadway fanatics and the less theatrical types. For a relaxed night out full of laughs, good food, and good music, Casa Mia is waiting with an open mic.
Photography by Sean Fagan.