“Forbidden Broadway” – Phoenix Theatre and “M. Butterfly” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 24, 2008


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ
Nearly Naked Theatre, The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Two local theaters are presenting very different but very interesting shows. Phoenix Theatre’s wonderfully comic slashing of familiar musicals, “Forbidden Broadway,” is a joy to watch. Nearly Naked Theatre’s long promised staging of David Henry Hwang’s fascinating comedy/drama about spying and subterfuge, “M. Butterfly,” is an outstanding play but this one sputters because of weak casting and laggardly pacing.

Written to the well known show tunes it parodies, “Forbidden Broadway” uses alternative lyrics that find funny foibles in each show it slams. “Forbidden Broadway” relies on four talented farceurs to make Gerard Alessandrini’s spoofs hysterical. That’s exactly what Rusty Ferracane, Lisa Fogel, Sarah Wolter, and Toby Yatso do as they weave amusing parodies of 14 familiar shows such as “Chicago,” “Wicked,” and “Les Miserables” among several excellent slams at musical theater stars.

The show finds humor in scenery and casting extremes, exaggerated costumes, over-the-top stagings, excessively dramatic lyrics, and pushy personalities who play themselves instead of the roles they portray. Director Roger Castellano adds funny physical humor and hilarious sight gags to the lyrical shenanigans.

Highlights include Fogel’s cutting Carol Channing in “Hello, Dolly,” Wolter’s hysterical take on Chita Rivera, Yatso’s “Spamalot” frenzy, and Ferracane’s “The Phantom of the Opera” satire. “Forbidden Broadway” Continues through December 7. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A

“M. Butterfly” has been on director Damon Derring’s list of plays to do since Nearly Naked Theatre was born 10 years ago. Casting difficulties have sidelined it until he found an actor to play Song Liling, a Chinese actor at the Peking Opera who played female roles and convinced a French diplomat to China that he was a she. The pair carried on a torrid affair for years. The ambassador unwittingly gave the impersonator top secrets and never discovered his lover’s true sex. The messy affair sent the diplomat to prison.

The play is tricky to stage. Here, it lacks the spark of life to entice theatergoers into the intrigue. Part of the problem is Derring’s draggy staging but both of the lead performers fail to catch the spirit necessary to make these people enticing. David Weiss turns the French diplomat bland, one-dimensional, dull, and boring. Thomas Isao Morinaka’s Song Liling never convinces that he is a she. Thus the play’s reliance on this discovery has no impact as this actor appears better as a man than as a lady.

The rest of cast instills more energy into their roles. Particularly good is Alex Raines in three small roles.

Derring’s great love of “M. Butterfly” is not realized in this flat production. “M. Butterfly” continues through December 6. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or go online at www.nearlynakedtheatre.org.

Grade: D