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Friday, April 5, 2002

I wonder why something like "Forbidden Broadway" draws such a large, enthusiastic audience in a backwater burg like Santa Rosa. I know we don't get all the inside show business references, especially the ones about shows that have never been produced here. Judging by the high percentage of people even older than me in the audience, I suspect some of them don't even know who Elton John is. I'd be stunned if any of them had been exposed to his "Aida."

We actually do have an active theater community here, including a summer college program that draws theater arts students from all over the country. And we love our musicals. The show Mom and I saw last night at the Luther Burbank Center was sponsored by the local oldies radio station, for whatever that's worth.

As for me, I've always loved song parodies. I'm a longtime fan of Tom Lehrer and the Smother Brothers. "Forbidden Broadway" is series of blackout sketches featuring send-ups of show tunes. It's full of cleverly crafted songs, performed with spirit and sparkle by a talented and energetic cast of four (five including the pianist).

The performers rotate on and off the stage (sometimes literally, as in the hilarious "Les Miserables" spoof that ended the first act). Most of the humor is pointed but affectionate, although it's not hard to tell that there's a little stronger feeling behind the lampoons of Disney (not Walt, but the corporate entity that prizes visuals above content, as in "The Lion King") and Lloyd Weber (Andrew himself, in this case). Not exactly vicious, but the disdain seems genuine.

In spite of the wide gaps in my knowledge of musical theater, I didn't feel out of the loop more than once or twice during the show. If I didn't know exactly what they were making fun of, I was at least aware of what they were trying to do. It's a very New York-centered show, of course, and I've never been east of Buffalo. But we're all New Yorkers, right? You can't watch TV or movies without knowing more about New York than you do about your home town. Even the local paper here is owned by the New York Times.

If people came to the show last night not knowing who Ethel Merman was, they probably had a clue by the time they left. And everyone recognizes a caricature of Liza Minnelli, right? Right? Not to mention Barbra. The "West Side Story" parody, with Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno as dueling Anitas, would be funny even standing on its own, but enriched by a little background knowledge, it was hysterical.

When Mom suggested we go see this show, I agreed but with a tiny bit of hesitation. Maybe it's just because it wasn't my idea, but I knew that it was a satirical review, and I love musicals too much to indulge in anything that trashes them. I'm glad I went, though, because I needed to get out of my house and I really needed to laugh that hard. Even when they made fun of Bernadette Peters, whom I happen to adore, I went with it. I didn't necessarily agree, but I relaxed and let myself laugh. (I guess my standards are more flexible than I like to think.)

It's hard to get me out of the house, but once I do I'm usually okay with it. Last night was a lot of fun.

storm coming in

One day, there will be no more utility poles. (Discuss.)

This was the first time I've been to the LBC since it was remodeled last summer. The building started out as a church, and you used to sit on pews and slide back and forth trying to see between the heads of the people sitting in front of you. Now they have actual theater seats, with the rows set high enough behind each other that the sight lines are perfect. It makes it worth the inflated prices they charge, as long as the shows are as good as the one we just saw.

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