Return to the Forbidden? Plan It!
Barbara & Scott see Forbidden Broadway twice and Falling Off Broadway once too often. Plus: A new Frankenstein and a surprise from Sylvia McNair.
We saw the show twice -- the first time with Megan Lewis subbing for Christine Pedi, who was out sick, then again after Pedi had returned. Other changes took place in the interim, as well. The death of Jerry Orbach brought a significant revision: The show originally began with a hilarious sketch that featured Ron Bohmer as Orbach in his famous TV detective role, investigating the death of the theater. In deference to Orbach's passing, that opening has been dropped, and the show's subtitle is now left unexplained. However, there is so much good material in this edition that the loss of the sketch doesn't significantly diminish the ultimate accumulation of laughter. There are plenty of new and wonderfully dicey jabs at current shows, among the best of which is an attack on British directors for ruining great American musicals -- and, oh, does Fiddler on the Roof get whacked!
This edition also features one of the best casts that Forbidden Broadway has assembled in years. There are no weak links. Pedi is brilliant in her impersonations of such stars as Liza Minnelli and Elaine Stritch. Her understudy, Megan Lewis, will return to the show later this month when Pedi leaves, and she brings her own considerable comic skills to bear. Jason Mills displays a great flair for physical comedy, and Jennifer Simard is a deft comedienne with a great set of pipes; she's a particular standout in this edition. So is the enormously versatile Bohmer. If it's been a few years since you've seen Forbidden Broadway, this is definitely a great time to revisit it.
The original title of Falling Off Broadway was The Greatest Show Off Earth! The original title was better. But what's in a name? And what are we to make of David Black, who wrote this one-person show and stars in it?
Here's an autobiographical piece that touches on Black's family, his youth, his adventures as a theater producer, and his work as an artist. His stories about shows and people who interest us -- he worked with a fair number of theater heavyweights -- can be engaging, but the performance is stolid and the writing is unexciting. This ultimately feels more like an elaborate author's book reading event than a show.
Do not miss Frankenstein. Set to close at the Soho Rep on January 16 (unless a bolt of lightning strikes?), it's an exhilarating piece of theater that shows what can be done on a small stage with just a little bit of money if you have a lot of imagination. Created and performed by The Flying Machine, this is not your mother's, nor Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein -- at least not entirely. Freely adapted by Joshua Carlebach, with some added inspiration from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, the show is a fast-paced 70 minutes' worth of gothic tale.
Richard Crawford portrays Gershon, a common drunk and thief who becomes the monster. As always, the monster is a great role, and Crawford plays it flawlessly. The large cast is also led by Robert Ross Parker as the socially awkward young genius Victor Frankenstein, and everyone moves through a brilliantly conceived and executed set by Marisa Frantz. The set is a life-size puzzle box with swinging doors and windows, given further atmosphere by virtue of James Japhy Weideman's elegantly designed lighting effects. The carefully orchestrated sound design by Jeff Lorenz further enhances the nightmarish story. Putting all of these elements to work in service of the piece, Carlebach directs with the precision of a surgeon and the flourish of a matador. This production of Frankenstein is an exciting, original work.
The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room has become a highly eclectic nightlife forum; these days, it features everything from the classic cabaret of stars like Andrea Marcovicci and Karen Akers to crossover jazz artists like Jamie Cullum and Curtis Stigers. But the Tuesday night opening of former opera star Sylvia McNair in this famed night spot brought yet another new dimension to the venue.
No eyebrows were raised by McNair's commitment to the Great American Songbook; she had performed at the Cabaret Convention last October, so a lot of people were already aware of her recent change in career focus. (There was barely a hint of opera in her Oak Room program; it was largely awash in the melodies of Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers). No, the eyebrow-raising began when this statuesque beauty from the opera world pulled out her fiddle and bow and began to play country-style. Mind you, it's just an accent in the show, but it highlights McNair's playful nature and adds considerable charm to an otherwise semi-formal night.
New to the cabaret world -- her show is titled This is All Very New to Me! -- McNair still has a way to go in acting these songs that she so clearly loves, but she has extraordinary vocal control even at the most delicate moments. If her sound is not distinctive, her voice is certainly reliable and it serves her particularly well on slow, soft ballads. Considering that she's used to playing in huge theaters, it's impressive that McNair makes warm and sincere eye contact with the Oak Room audience. Her patter is often funny and, other than an overly long Richard Rodgers waltz medley, her song selections cannot be faulted. Plus, her fiddle playing is a delightful surprise.