Arts & Culture

Largo company brings 'Forbidden Broadway' to Bradenton

One of the longest-running shows in New York is a parody of all the other long-running shows in New York.

"Forbidden Broadway" opened almost exactly 33 years ago. It had small cast who took on a lot of roles and poked fun at the big shows and the big personalities of the theater world. It gets retooled and updated every so often, and it's moved from one small theater to another, but it's always, for more than three decades, been a hit with audiences.

Now a version of that show, titled "Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits," is coming to Bradenton. It'll be at the Manatee Performing Arts Center for three performances, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

As the title promises, this version of "Forbidden Broadway" culls some of the best and most popular bits from all the other versions, going back to 1982.

"It's a send-up of several Broadway shows and Broadway performers," said director James Grenelle. " 'Hairspray,' 'Chicago,' 'Wicked,' 'Les Miz,' Carol Channing, Liza Minelli."

Audiences might appreciate the show in a different way if they know the shows that are being parodied, Grenelle said, but it's funny even for people who have never seen a musical in their lives. Most of the songs are familiar to general audiences, and the people who are satirized are cultural icons.

The production comes from Eight O'Clock Theatre, a community theater from Largo that specializes in musicals. It was founded, coincidentally, in 1982, the same year that "Forbidden Broadway" premiered.

"For years we did plays and musicals," Grenelle said. "Then a few years back we started doing only musicals, because that's what the audience wanted. So we've done nothing but musicals for several years."

This show is the first entry in what officials of Eight O'Clock Theatre and the Manatee Players hope will be an ongoing exchange. Eight O'Clock will bring occasional shows to Bradenton, and the Manatee players will take shows to the Largo Cultural Center, the home of Eight O'Clock Theatre.

"We've worked together for a long time, sharing lights and costumes and things like that," said Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director of the Manatee Players. "This is the next step in our collaboration."

Kerby said that he hasn't decided which show his company will bring to Largo. It might be "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," which will be in the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center later this season.

Eight O'Clock originally staged "Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits" several years ago, and then put together a shorter version for the Florida Theatre Conference in 2014. It ended up winning the award for Best Community Theatre Production.

For the full-length production the company is bringing here, Grenelle has reassembled the entire original cast.

"We have four actors, about 60 costumes and I think about 30 wigs," Grenelle said. "It's very fast, lots of costume changes. Each actor has their own dresser. And it's short show, only about 90 minutes with intermission, so it goes by quickly."

Details: Jan. 17-19, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Show times: 2 p.m. Jan. 17, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19. Tickets: $24. Information: 941-748-5875,

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.