Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Forbidden Brdway at The Walnut in Philly

We are thrilled when a local boy makes good. Sonny Leo, son of Wilmington's legendary dance teacher Anna Marie -- and triple threat performer in his own right -- is starring in The Walnut Street Theatre's "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits."

Sonny and his colleagues were well chosen for this irreverently funny show. It is well worth the drive.

About Forbidden: more than three decades ago, a clever New York wordsmith named Gerald Alessandrini had a novel idea -- to create a show parodying Broadway's memorable tunes and personalities. It became an overnight sensation with both insiders and aficionados.

Broadway greats like Rodgers & Hammerstein, Porter and Sondheim wrote shows with particular vocal skill sets in mind, so Forbidden -- which slices and dices the likes of “Spamalot,” “Chicago,” “Rent” and “Mamma Mia” -- includes many genres and its actors must be ambidextrous in their vocal and acting styles. Thus, each are handed prospects for a tour de force performance.

A taste: “On My Phone” is a takeoff of "Le Mis'" song “On My Own,” telling the sad tale of a bored cast member stranded on the battlements for a half hour and sneaks a call to a friend on her cell phone while playing dead. Thus, Les Mis producer, Cameron Macintosh, was lampooned as the ultimate huckster for marketing every conceivable commercial item from the show (Aisle Say wagers he made more money on the forlorn little waif t-shirt than ticket sales).

Another taste, featuring our own Sonny: in the '60s and '70s two Hispanic singer dancers, Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno were Broadway stars. Rivera played Anita in the stage “West Side Story” and Rita did the role in the movie, and people constantly confused one with the other. The song “Chita and Rita” sprang from this, and Sonny turned a compelling Chita in drag...or was he Rita?

Sonny also delivered brilliantly at Tevye in “Ambition,” a “Tradition” takeoff and as a cute white pussy in “I Enjoy Being a Cat,” a dual parody of both “Cats” and the song from R& H's “Flower Drum Song,” “I Enjoy Being A Girl” -- the anthem that makes feminists shoot smoke from their ears.

Each of the actors had their moments. The versatile Marcus Stevens was haunting as the Phantom. Ellie Mooney's as La Barbra had both voice and distinctive mannerisms down.

Jennie Eisenhower was drop dead hysterical in her overly red-lipsticked, saucer-eyed, cavernous-mouthed representation of Carol Channing -- the "Hello Dolly" performer turned talk show junkie (if one celebrity qualifies as being a caricature of herself, it must be Channing). My fave, though, was Eisenhower's spot on cocaine-induced “Johnny One Note” re-creation of Liza Minnelli. Throughout the tune, she stopped singing to remind the audience that her mother was Judy Garland and had been Dorothy in “Wizard of Oz,” “Did you know that?”

Walnut Street Theatre is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes, played The Walnut. As a certified Broadway junkie, Aisle Say must comment on the cover page of the program by Al Hirschfeld, the NY Times caricaturist whose eight decade career immortalized him on the Great White Way. The shows and performers burlesqued in this current rendition are pictured. Hirschfeld's art style is unique, and he is considered to be one of the most important figures in contemporary caricature.

The show runs through June 28. For more tickets and times, visit or call (215) 574-3550.

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