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BWW Reviews: Allow Yourself to Experience One of Summer's Hottest Tickets- CATCO's FORBIDDEN BROADWAY'S GREATEST HITS: VOL 1

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I've said it before- one of the best kept local theater secrets in Columbus can be found tucked away in the unobtrusive studios of the Vern Riffe Center downtown. CATCO's "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1" might be the game changer though, because as soon as word gets out about this hilariously funny and exceptionally well cast production, there is really no chance that CATCO can be overlooked this summer.

The show, created and written by Gerard Alessandrini and directed by CATCO's Joe Bishara takes the spoofing of Broadway hits to a stratospherically comedic level, and none of your favorites will be spared, with side-splitting results. However, in order to pull off poking fun at favorites like "Les Miserables", "Phantom of the Opera", and "Wicked" without offending die-hard theater fans, you have to not only have a script that is witty and satirical, but a cast that has the talent to match the productions being parodied, and that's where CATCO really knocks this one out of the park. Comprised of a cast of only 2 men (Christopher Storer and Joe Bishara) and 2 women (Dionysia Williams and Liz Wheeler), as well as on-stage piano player and Music Director, Matt Clemens, the show stops not at mocking even "Annie", and continues with insanely comedic impersonations of Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Mandy Patinkin, and Ethel Merman, to name a few.

The set, designed by Michael S. Brewer, is true to its original supper club version, as Studio 3 is transformed into a caberet, complete with intimate candle lit tables, on-stage piano man, and an "in your face", yet cozy stage area, perfect for the tone of the show, and all the more reason that you won't be able to take your eyes off its performers. Marvelous together, each performer is truly at the top of their craft, delivering not only gorgeous vocal renditions of some iconic, though spun, tunes from fan favorites such as "Into the Woods", "Cats", and "Les Miserables", but stellar at creating spot-on incarnations of Carol Channing, Rita Moreno, Michael Crawford, and Ethel Merman- no small task. Together, they plow through the extremely funny "Into the Words"- a tongue-twisting take on Sondheim's proliferation to wordiness in harmonies that make you long for more. Williams is lovely vocally and fall-off-your-chair laughable in "On My Phone", a tribute to the lack of stage time experienced by "Les Miserables" fated Eponine, and works the stage like a pro as Liza Minelli in "Liza One Note". Wheeler channels Tracie Thoms in "Seasons of Hype"- a spoof on the fan-fave, "Rent", and laments the loss of less somber Broadway options in the "Les Mis" spoof, "I Dreamed a Show". She is so outrageously funny that it may be easy to forget that she also delivers vocal performances worthy of their Broadway icons, until she hits some of those glorious high nights like its a walk in the park. Understated as well, is Bishara, who is at his best as a raspy Michael Crawford in "The Mucous of the Night" and as an actor so happy to be employed, he almost doesn't mind fur in "I Enjoy Being A Cat". Storer brings down the house with a Wolverine clawed impersonation of Hugh Jackman's attempt at "Les Mis" with "It's Too High", a spoof on "Bring Him Home", and is a scarily correct Mark from "Rent", albeit toting a plastic Playskool "camera".

Costume Design by Marcia Hain involves a lovely amount of representatively classic character garb with a ridiculous amount of split second costume changes that were executed flawlessly. Having your Music Director accompanying you as an on-stage piano man is a definite perk, but Matt Clemens is also a key player, contributing his own bits as he plays along ringside.

The script is brilliant, the cast is pure comic genius, and the perhaps the most delightful part- the actual delivery of the songs is vocally magnificent. In all, this production is one of the most entertaining I've seen all year. And while I reserve the right to still consider it sacrilegious, I can easily forgive even a mockery of Idina Menzel in light of the insanely good delivery of "Defying Subtlety". "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1" is witty, fast-paced, only mildly PG-13, and though I've often lauded CATCO for pursuing the "deeper" theatrical plotlines other companies shy away from, this summer, it is nice that all that is required is the ability to kick back, laugh a lot, and enjoy a fabulous summer evening with some friends. Be forewarned however, the CATCO talent is sneakily addictive, and you'll be left wondering why you didn't get down to Studio 3 sooner. I promise not to say that I told you so.

Catch one of the summer's hottest tickets to CATCO's "Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1" at the Riffe Center downtown, Studio 3 from now through July 14, with shows on Thurs.-Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 2pm. For additional ticketing information, go to: http://catco.org/shows/2013-2014/forbidden-broadway

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Generation Photography


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From This Author Lisa Norris

Lisa grew up participating in community theater groups such as Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT) in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, both in front of and behind (read more...)