Following the May opening of the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre, another auspicious event on the performing arts scene occurred Thursday through the historic reopening of the newly renovated The District Theatre (formerly TOTS) with “Forbidden Broadway.” In some ways, it is was a dream collaboration among show presenters Actors Theatre of Indiana (ATI) in a space now operated by Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) in partnership with IndyFringe, launching a new era for a site that is vital to the Mass Ave cultural district.
ATI, which is based in the Studio One theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, is one of only four professional theatre companies in Central Indiana. The company has featured both local and national talent in plays and musicals for 13 years.
A capsule of American musical theatre history, “Forbidden Broadway,” which premiered in 1982, is one of Off-Broadway’s longest running shows. Wickedly funny and often brilliant, it parodies more than 20 Broadway shows. But it does so with affection and is actually a valentine to the Great White Way, as it lovingly mocks some of Broadway’s most recognizable show tunes and the stars that made them famous. It is filled with inside jokes that performers or theatre people will enjoy the most; yet, those only slightly familiar with musical theatre will still appreciate the show’s comedy and the performances themselves. Even though you will enjoy the parodies of shows you haven’t seen, they will definitely be funnier to you if you have. Who knows? Perhaps the lampooning of a certain show may even compel you to see the real thing.
This smart and highly entertaining production, skillfully directed and choreographed by Billy Kimmel, who once appeared in the NYC production, features ATI co-founders Cynthia Collins, Judy Fitzgerald and Don Farrell, three very gifted, seasoned performers and Logan Moore, one of Indy’s most popular leading men who shows his comedic side, as well as charismatic music director Brent Marty on piano.
In a show consisting of numerous rib-tickling moments, there were some that were my favorites, including Fitzgerald and Collins, respectively as Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno making fun of “I Like to be in America” from “West Side Story” and as Elphaba and Glinda in “Popular” from “Wicked;” Moore. as the Phantom of the Opera joining Fitzgerald as Ethel Merman in a duet in which the old pro teaches the character from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical how to sing without a microphone; Don Farrell as Tevye in “Ambition” which skewered “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof” and as Carol Channing in a send up of “Hello, Dolly!;” the entire cast in a lampoon of “Les Mis” that had me rolling in the aisles; and finally Fitzgerald in a bravura impersonation of a self-absorbed Barbra Streisand singing her version of “Mame” from the musical of the same title.
Showcasing production values, the likes of which I have never seen in that particular space, the ATI creative team consisting of set designer Bernie Killian, lighting designer Quinten James, sound designer Zach Rosing and costume designers Terry Woods and Donna Jacobi, all contributed to a high-caliber product which will surely set the bar high for future shows at the newly christened The District Theatre.
Hats off to Actors Theatre of Indiana’s co-founders, CICF’s CEO Brian Payne and IndyFringe’s CEO Pauline Moffat for banding together to launch this new effort and build on the legacy left by Ron Spencer who started TOTS and those visionaries who created the Mass Ave we now know. It is comforting to know that among the bars and restaurants that continue to proliferate in the area, there will be some “culture” in the “district” as well.
For tickets and information about “Forbidden Broadway,” which continues through July 29, visit www.indydistricttheatre.org or call (317) 308-9800.