DIVA TALK: Chatting with the Forbidden Broadway Cast Plus Hair at the Delacorte

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with the Forbidden Broadway Cast Plus Hair at the Delacorte News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Valerie Fagan and Janet Dickinson in Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening
Valerie Fagan and Janet Dickinson in Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening Photo by Carol Rosegg

FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: RUDE AWAKENING
I've really lost count of how many times I've seen and thoroughly enjoyed Forbidden Broadway, the brilliant, loving roast of Broadway that Gerard Alessandrini created a mind-boggling 25 years ago. During that time the revue has featured a host of actors who would go on to Broadway fame, including Barbara Walsh, Bryan Batt, Daniel Reichard, Jason Alexander, Christine Pedi, Brad Oscar, Dee Hoty, Davis Gaines, Alix Korey and David Hibbert, among others. To celebrate the revue's 25th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to chat with the current cast of Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening, which offers spoofs of Spring Awakening, Curtains, A Chorus Line, "Grease: You're The One That I Want," Legally Blonde, Frost/Nixon, Mary Poppins, Company and Grey Gardens and officially opens at the 47th Street Theatre Oct. 2. I posed the same set of questions to each talented performer.

Janet Dickinson

Janet Dickinson Hometown: Bemidji, MN

New York stage debut: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Favorite Broadway musical: Sweeney Todd Your audition process for Forbidden Broadway: The first time I auditioned for Forbidden Broadway, I worked up a whole medley of impersonations — Julie Andrews, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Bebe Neuwirth. I felt pretty good about the audition — they hired the actress who auditioned after me. Subsequently, they hired me to do a gig in Detroit. After that they were destined for a Boston gig. I came in to audition for the creative team. We waited for Gerard to show up. After a while, the rest of the team decided to have me go ahead and audition. It went very well. Then, Gerard walked in the door. I had to do the whole audition over again! Happily, they cast me.

Forbidden Broadway editions in which you've appeared: Forbidden Broadway: SVU (Boston); Forbidden Christmas (Detroit); Forbidden Broadway (Milwaukee); Forbidden Broadway: Roast of Utopia (New York).

Who you're impersonating in Rude Awakening: Christine Ebersole from Grey Gardens, Charlotte d'Amboise from A Chorus Line, Barbara Walsh from Company, Christine Estabrook from Spring Awakening, Donna Murphy from LoveMusik, Sierra Boggess from Little Mermaid, Laura Bell Bundy from Legally Blonde.

James Donegan, Valerie Fagan and Janet Dickinson in Forbidden Broadway
photo by Carol Rosegg

The impersonation that you enjoy doing the most: Carol Channing. She is such a terrific character. It's fun to paint her impersonation with broad strokes because the person, Carol Channing, is larger than life in a wonderful way. Currently, I am really enjoying my Christine Ebersole number. She came to see the show one night and stayed afterwards to meet the cast. She was so gracious. I was nervous to do "Christine" in front of Christine Ebersole, but no one has laughed more at the Grey Gardens number than she did that night. Most memorable onstage mishap: The great thing about live theatre is that something different happens every night! I might get in trouble for divulging this story, but one night we were doing a Sound of Music sketch, and the actor playing Rolf read his lines as Regis Philbin. Of course, he was trying to crack up the actors on stage. I was playing Maria. I patiently waited for him to finish his lines so I could deliver my lines — which I did as Regis Philbin!

* * *

Valerie Fagan

Valerie Fagan Hometown: Overland Park, KS . . . and, yes, everything was in black and white back then.

New York stage debut: I wrote a musical in college called Six Women With Brain Death, and we performed it at Steve McGraw's — now the Triad.

Favorite Broadway musical: Sweeney Todd. I still get chills when I hear that whistle scream at the top of the show. Brilliant.

Your audition process for Forbidden Broadway: It was wonderfully cracked, but I think I got FB because I did a warped imitation of Julie Andrews singing "I was spawned in a ditch by a mother who left me there...I'm only Aldonza the whore."

Forbidden Broadway editions in which you've appeared: SVU. I love that the show starts with Annie's execution. Gerard is hilariously twisted!

Who you're impersonating in Rude Awakening: Ethel Merman, Melanie Griffith, Liza, Mary Poppins, Eponine, Idina Menzel, Tracy Turnblad, Wendla and, of course, John Lloyd Young (who recently gave me some great Frankie Valli tips).

The impersonation that you enjoy doing the most: Eponine — one of my first jobs out of college was touring in Les Miz. I always wanted to play Eponine, but let's face it...I'll never be a "waif."

Most memorable onstage mishap: I was playing Elsa in The Sound of Music, and the actor playing the Captain went up on a line and left the stage — he just walked off! In my adrenaline induced horror, I rambled an entire back story of how Max and I were Nazi spies and had to locate the blueprint of Austria's new secret weapon, which was hidden somewhere in the children's bedroom. Seriously, this really happened.

* * *

Jared Thomas Bradshaw

Jared Thomas Bradshaw Hometown: McDonough, GA

New York stage debut: Everybody's favorite Alfred Kinsey musical, Dr. Sex, at the Peter Norton Space on 42nd Street.

Favorite Broadway musical: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It has everything: a lead baritone, Sondheim, laughs, blood, and it opened the year I was born. What more could you ask for, really?

Your audition process for Forbidden Broadway: Well, I had prepared since I was in high school, singing along with the FB cast albums. After three years in New York, I finally got called in, after sending in a picture of me with Carol Channing. They knew I was serious! Then I had a 30-minute first audition, and two weeks later, a 30-minute callback. I wrote down 15 a cappella "vocal impressions" on a note card and started doing them. They made me do them all! They were random, too: Elvis Presley, Kermit the Frog, Frankie Valli, Gwen Verdon, Mandy Patinkin, Norbert Leo Butz, Mickey Mouse, Bing Crosby, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Colm Wilkinson, Harvey Fierstein, Hugh Jackman, The Phantom... I also was lucky to get recommendations from the wonderful Jen Simard, Felicia Finley and Bill Selby.

Forbidden Broadway editions in which you've appeared: Forbidden Broadway: SVU in New York, Chicago and San Diego, and random road gigs everywhere from Osh Kosh, WI, to Las Vegas, NV.

Who you're impersonating in Rude Awakening: David Hyde Pierce/Curtains, Cheyenne Jackson/Xanadu, Jonathan Groff/Spring Awakening, Christian Hoff/Jersey Boys, Bob Martin/Drowsy Chaperone, John Travolta/"Hairspray" film, Christopher Sieber/Spamalot, Colm Wilkinson/Les Misérables, Rafiki/Lion King, Flying Monkey/Wicked, Mandy Patinkin....

The impersonation that you enjoy doing the most: Cheyenne is fun for the dancing on roller skates, but Jonathan Groff is the part that I look forward to nightly. He's a friend, and I've seen him do the show five times, so I have some specific details I've gotten to add in over the summer. I can't wait for him to see it! Since I don't look like a teenager, it's my one chance to "be" in Spring Awakening! With a show and performance as specific as Jonathan's is, it's the kind of parody Gerard writes best.

Most memorable onstage mishap: In previews earlier this month: "Going up"/forgetting lyrics in sync with the entire cast on the first night of a new number. In front of a New York audience? Priceless.

* * *

James Donegan

James Donegan Hometown: Seguin, TX (near San Antonio)

New York stage debut: Babes in Toyland - "Peter Pumpkin Eater" with Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall

Favorite Broadway musical: Into the Woods

Your audition process for Forbidden Broadway: I auditioned for FB five years ago and wasn't even called back the first time. I am lucky enough to be involved in a number of new musicals, and FB creator Gerard Alessandrini heard me perform some songs at the BMI Lehman Engel musical writer's workshop last spring. From that, he called me in for an additional audition. I spent 20 minutes with them doing four of my own songs and a bunch of impressions (which I had never tried before). Two days later, I got a call asking if I could start rehearsals immediately for the special summer edition of Forbidden Broadway: The Roast of Utopia.

Forbidden Broadway editions in which you've appeared: The Roast of Utopia: Special Summer Edition.

Who you're impersonating in Rude Awakening: Raul Esparza; Harvey Fierstein; John Gallagher, Jr.; Brian F. O'Byrne.

The impersonation that you enjoy doing the most: Raul Esparza, hands down.

Most memorable onstage mishap: [Playing] Harvey Fierstein seems riddled with difficulty — it's a tough costume change. I have lost beads, earrings, you name it. I had to pick up a broken chair on stage one night. Thankfully, the characters in this show can do anything — the audience loves it when things go wrong, so I just acknowledge it, we laugh, and I go on.

[Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening plays the 47th Street Theatre, located in Manhattan at 304 West 47th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.]

HAIR
Within the past decade, I've had the pleasure of catching a few different productions of Hair, the 1967 rock musical that produced such hits as "Aquarius," "Good Morning Starshine" and "Let the Sunshine In." As much as I enjoyed my previous Hair encounters, I was unprepared for the emotional response I had to last weekend's Public Theater production at the outdoor Delacorte Theater.

The three-night Hair concerts — directed by Diane Paulus with choreography by Karole Armitage — celebrated the musical's 40th anniversary; though four decades old, the musical is as relevant today as it must have been when it premiered at the Public in October 1967. Perhaps that relevance, especially the realization that men are still killing each other on battlefields around the world, made the final image of Claude's dead body, alone on an empty stage, profoundly moving.

From the moment the musical began — with a powerful version of "Aquarius," belted with ease by Patina Renea Miller — one knew the evening would be special. Part of the immense pleasure of the production was seeing so many new faces, whose joy in singing the James Rado-Gerome Ragni-Galt MacDermot score was palpable.

Other standouts of the cast included Karen Olivo, who belted out an emotional "Easy to Be Hard" that clearly elucidated the song's lyric; Bryce Ryness, who reveled in his role as the sexually ambiguous Woof; Allison Case, who delivered a delicious version of "Frank Mills"; Will Swenson, who brought a dynamic energy to his work as Berger; and the delightfully ditzy Kacie Sheik, who shone in all her acting and vocal moments as the pregnant Jeanie.

And, then there's Jonathan Groff, the Tony-nominated star of Spring Awakening, who undertook the pivotal role of the self-questioning and ultimately ill-fated Claude. Sporting a period wig, the open-faced actor was the highlight of the concert, demonstrating that his charm and acting abilities are not limited to students in 1890s Germany. His high-voltage, life-affirming delivery of "I Got Life" rightfully received the largest applause of the evening, and his performance of the Act One finale, "Where Do I Go?," was equally thrilling. Groff also scored with "Manchester England," and his work in the show's finale was completely stirring. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for him, as I do many of the young performers who made Hair such a thoroughly memorable evening.

DIVA TIDBITS
The Los Angeles Opera's February production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny that co-starred Tony winners Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone will be broadcast on PBS in December. The recording of the production will be telecast Dec. 17 from 9-11:30 PM ET as part of PBS' "Great Performances" series; check local listings. Tony Award winner John Doyle directed Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which featured McDonald as Jenny, LuPone as Leocadia Begbick, Anthony Dean Griffey as Jim Mahoney, Robert Wörle as Fatty the Bookkeeper, John Easterlin as Jake (Jack) Schmidt, Mel Ulrich as Pennybank Bill, Donnie Ray Albert as Trinity Moses, Derek Taylor as Toby Higgins and Steven Humes as Alaska Wolf Joe. For more information visit www.pbs.org.

While the revolution continues on the stage of Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre, the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA, will present its own staging of the epic musical Les Misérables Oct. 23-Nov. 18. Barry Ivan will direct and choreograph the musical, which will feature Fred Inkley in the role of Jean Valjean with Inga Ballard (Madame Thénardier), Charlie Brady (Enjolras), Renee Brna (Cosette), Charles Hagarty (Marius), Joanne Javien (Eponine), Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Fantine), Devin Richards (Javert), Ron Wisniski (Thénardier), Sebastian Hoffman (Gavroche), Isabelle Miller (Young Eponine) and Joanna Rosen (Young Cosette).

Famed vocalist Chaka Khan, R&B singer Bebe Winans and "American Idol" finalist LaKisha Jones are all scheduled to join the New York company of The Color Purple at the Broadway Theatre. Khan and Winans will join the cast Jan. 9, 2008, in the roles of, respectively, Sofia and Harpo (Sofia's husband). Jones will join the company a few weeks earlier, on Dec. 19, 2007, as the church soloist in the musical's opening number. When Khan arrives, Jones will also play Sofia at the matinee performances.

Following the sold-out New York debut of Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words on Sept. 10, the acclaimed L.A.-based comedy sensation will return to the Zipper Factory in Manhattan Oct. 15. The 7:30 PM performance will boast the talents of Xanadu's Jackie Hoffman, Cheyenne Jackson, Tony Roberts and Mary Testa as well as Kristen Johnston, Karen Ziemba, Richard Kind, Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, Dayle Reyfel and Eugene Pack. Celebrity Autobiography, which was created by Pack, features actors who "'interpret' the actual words and stories written by the famous and the infamous." The Zipper Factory is located in Manhattan at 336 West 37th Street. Tickets, priced $25-$45, are available by calling (212) 352-3101 or by visiting www.thezipperfactory.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Janet Dickinson, Michael West, Jared Bradshaw and Valerie Fagan in <i>Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening</i>.
Janet Dickinson, Michael West, Jared Bradshaw and Valerie Fagan in Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening. Photo by Carol Rosegg