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May 17, 2012

Forbidden Broadway - The Musical in Manila

Those of us who grew up with the little orphan Annie remember her as a freckled, red-haired wisp of a thing in a gingham frock singing about the joys for a better tomorrow. In fact, the girl comes off as such a darling that you can’t help but want to swoop in and adopt her.

Now, picture Annie forty years into her future staggering onto a stage wearing the same dress and sporting the same hairdo. She’s not as charming now, though; her makeup’s been done as if a circus went to town on it and she’s singing about how maybe—just maybe—someone will allow her to resurrect her now-defunct career.

Oh, did I mention that she may light a cigarette? (Actually, she does.)

That’s basically what Forbidden Broadway does—it takes Broadway to a whole new level and delivers a satirical, thought-provoking performance that will leave the audience laughing and pondering the future of Broadway.

Forbidden Broadway is the brainchild of Gerard Alessandrini, a then unemployed actor who chose an unconventional way to make use of his talents—putting together the parodies of Broadway tunes that he had written and turning it into a nightclub show. Since its breakthrough, Forbidden Broadway has amazed critics and audiences, thus making it New York’s longest running musical comedy revue. The production also has several variants of awards to boast of including Drama Desk, Obie and the much-coveted Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre.

The cast of 'Forbidden Broadway'

Now, we have been granted the privilege to see it live here in Manila thanks to performer-playwright-director Joel Trinidad and his amazing cast and production crew.

“Simply put, I am a fan,” Trinidad shares. He had been fascinated with the concept ever since he had heard an unofficial cast recording, confessing that he has never heard anything “so audacious, so irreverent, so unfailingly clever.” He wanted to give Filipinos the chance to become as absorbed in the world of Forbidden Broadway as he was, which cemented his decision to create a rendition of his own that locals can enjoy.

Joel Trinidad

Thank the bloody stars he did.

Being a fan of musical theatre myself, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the special show for the media because, like Joel Trinidad, I found the concept of the production absurdly brilliant. I’ve seen incarnations (and even performed some excerpts when I used to study musical theatre) of famous musicals such as Mamma Mia!, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Rent onstage and on television; it just felt so refreshing to know that people have managed to come up with different ways of paying homage to such well-loved classics.

The actors are a brilliant lot. We are graced with the presence of Liesl Bautisa (2010 Aliw Award For Best Stage Actress), Caisa Borromeo (Best Female Lead Performance In A Musical awardee for Jo March in Little Women), OJ Mariano (Awit Awards Best New Male Recording Artist) and Lorenz Martinez (acclaimed international performer and Assistant Director for 9Works Theatrical production of Sweet Charity), all of whom are seasoned performers who contribute a little special something of their own to the production. Bautista takes the brunt of the comedic female roles—watch out for her Annie and Liza Minelli stints—and delivers with such grace and confidence boosted by the sheer power of her voice. Borromeo makes for a ridiculously darling Elphaba and the catty Anita (or Rita or Cheetah); I admire her ability to prance around in high, high heels. Mariano, with his clever antics and tight workout wear towards the end, cracked me up as the Phantom with a bad cold and a playwright who belts proudly about his “souvenir things”. Martinez brings on the comedy—coupled with his amazing singing—as he dons a dress a la John Travolta in Hairspray and…a cat. Yes, a cat.

And because Forbidden Broadway is full of surprises, veteran stage performer Noel Trinidad—who is also Joel’s father—delivers a hilarious guest performance that left us in laughter-induced tears. No song will ever be too high for you, sir!

Like most of the plays I’ve seen locally, Forbidden Broadway makes use of a minimalistic approach—four actors, one accompanist (piano) and one set. That’s it. For me, the sheer minimalism is one of the factors that contribute to the production’s success; it allows you to focus on the actors, their performance and the message behind the song. To fully appreciate your Forbidden Broadway experience, you have to listen closely—the changes that have been applied to the existing lyrics are amazingly ridiculous, hilarious and unfailingly close to the truth. Would you expect to learn about the economics behind expensive and the value of ambition (coupled with rejection, projection, complexion and attention—don’t ask, just watch) to launching one’s stage career in a modern-day musical parody? Well, this time, learn to expect the unexpected.

'Forbidden Broadway' runs at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza until Sunday, May 27, 2012. Ticket prices are as follows: Orchestra Center - P1,100; Orchestra Side - P900; Loge Center - P1,000; Loge Side - P800; Loge Rear - P700; Balcony - P600.

For tickets, inquiries, and other information, call Upstart Productions at (63 917) 528-5678, email or Ticketworld at 891-9999.

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