If you love — and go to — Broadway musicals, you'll adore Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits, a razor-sharp spoof of musicals and the performers who do them, playing Friday through Sunday at Stage West Community Playhouse.
It's 100 minutes of send-ups of the Great White Way's most popular shows, with not-so-subtle pokes at the egos and eccentricities of luminaries like Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin and composer/writing darlings Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
Director Myndee Washington's six talented actors play multiple roles as they send barbs toward at least 23 shows, mixing and matching at will — Flower Drum Song's I Enjoy Being a Girl turns into a snicker at the long-running paean to felines, I Enjoy Being a Cat, as the vocally gifted Anthony Cromartie prowls and struts around the stage, rolling his eyes. Cromartie is equally effective as Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof takeoff of Tradition, turned into Ambition.
Some of the references were a tad obscure, like the rivalry between stage star Chita Rivera and movie star Rita Moreno over who should get credit for the role of Anita in West Side Story, or Monalisa Patterson's poke at Liza Minelli with a parody of Johnny One Note from 1937's rarely performed Babes in Arms.
Still, even if you don't grasp every single joke, the outstanding performances usually make up for the unfamiliarity.
The clear audience favorites were the many takeoffs of songs from Les Misérables, which recently played at Stage West, that take jabs at the loooong first act and (perhaps most appreciated) allow Mitch Gonzalez as student/soldier Marius to explain the convoluted, complicated, almost incomprehensible plot of the show to a bewildered Cosette (an adorable Tori Razzano).
As a Sondheim devotee, my own favorite segment was Into the Words, sung to the tune of Into the Woods, a put-down/send-up of the lyricist's habit of machine-gun fast, information-packed lyrics that occasionally leave both players and audiences panting from sheer exhaustion.
Note also Victoria Primosch's powerful, pitch-perfect voice in her good-natured lampoon of the character she played in Les Mis, turning Fantine's I Dreamed a Dream into a clever critique of the musical's foibles. And natural comedian Keith Meccia uses his considerable girth to do a spot-on rendition of Broadway icon Harvey Fierstein's You Can't Stop the Beat (turned into You Can't Stop the Camp) from Hairspray.
Kudos to musical director Carol Ballard and her cohorts, Lauren Ballard and Steven Schildbach, whose onstage combo keeps the show moving right along with nary a sour note.
Not even some squeaks and roars from the sound system at Friday's performance could dampen the spirits of the players or subtract too much from the overall impact of the show.