For reasons I've never fully understood, they always involve a bit of a dance, these advance pieces, a struggle between enticing a potential audience and giving away the game, often ending up with vague or, worse, clever descriptions, whose sole charm is that they are short enough to fit on a program, but don't really tell readers anything useful about a show they, at least in theory, might like to see. Understandable, perhaps. You don't want to spoil it, but, hey, there aren't any big secrets in Shakespeare any more, but people still go out to see the Bard. So, gotta say it was nice to find out that Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan was willing to spill the beans about "Forbidden Newburyport," a satirical musical that takes colorful local personalities and hot-button political issues and serves them up Broadway style, as splashy production numbers, celebrating the city and all its quirks, and, as local folks know, there are many, and ... fair enough, maybe we should dial the premise back a bit.
Bryan, who ran Persephone Theater, a Port production company known not for big musical numbers, but serious, issue-driven shows, at the turn of the century, before leaving the city eight years ago, is not exactly kissing and telling, but she is turning down the lights and cuing up mood music — and giving folks a taste of what's to come. The idea is to whet the audience's appetite: if people know, for example, that the show, um, gently, lovingly ribs, say Ann Legasse and her business partners' apparently endless quest to build a hotel on the downtown waterfront, the hottest of political hot potatoes in the city, with Las Vegas songstress Allyn Gamble singing "What Ann Lagasse Wants," which is based on "Whatever Lola Wants" from "Damn Yankees," they'll want to jump right in. This is one of two numbers that deal with the hotel. The other is "Do You Think It's All Right (to build a hotel on the waterfront)" based on "Do You Think It's All Right" from The Who’s "Tommy" — and, for the record, it was not all right to leave the boy with Uncle Ernie. It's also one of two tunes from "Tommy," the other being “We’re not Gonna Pay It,” which is based on "We're Not Going to Take It," but instead of looking at the rebellion of summer campers who realize they've been had, it blasts the money-grubbing downtown paid parking plan. Instead of following the wind song and the thunder and the neon in young lovers' eyes, we'll be following the strange, troubled history of the much-maligned bike lane in "Where Do I Go" from "Hair." We step into the politics of dog do in “It’s the Law,” the so-called pooper-scooper song, which is based on "What A Game," from "Ragtime." "Mayor Tango," based on "Cell Block Tango" from "Chicago," pokes fun at the local political scene." The mess that is "Off Crow Lane" is based on "Maria," from "West Side Story. "Seasons of Bugs" — and greenheads — is based on "Seasons of Love" from "Rent." In “Plum Island,” the show focuses on e-ros-ion, not of tra-di-tion from Fiddler on the Roof," and instead of "Putting on the Ritz," we end up with "Anna Smulowitz." You get the idea. It's a roast of all things local.
The idea for the "Forbidden Newburyport" has been kicking around since 2004, when Bryan saw a production of “Forbidden NYU,” which did the same thing for New York University as Bryan hopes to do with Newburyport, while her daughter was attending New York University. She brought up the idea of putting the Port in the musical catbird seat at a party with old Port pals, and everybody said it was a great idea, but the project just sat on the back burner until last year, when Kimm Wilkinson, the Firehouse director of productions, turned up the heat. Bryan started jotting down potential tunes and lyrics for the show while on vacation is Costa Rica last year.
This is a local show with local themes and local talent, people you don't see on the stage: Ann Ormond, president, Newburyport Chamber of Commerce; Melissa Moore, the voice of Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank. You'll also see folk like Teresa Spaulding. All told, the book will have 100 Newburyport-specific references.
"It's all in good fun," says Bryan. "Just some gentle ribbing. The idea is Newburyport: we love it, now let's laugh at it."
JUST THE FACTS: "Forbidden Newburyport" runs June 13 to 26 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, Market Square. Tickets are $25, or $23 for students and seniors. Showtimes are 8 p.m. June 16-18 and June 23-25 and 3 p.m. on June 19 and 26. For more information, call 978.462.7336 or check out the Firehouse web.
JUST THE FOLKS — Here is the cast and crew of Forbidden Newburyport: Cast: Allyn Gamble, John Budzyna, Amy Lejeune, Melissa Moore, Suzi Cashman, Jack Rushton, Emily Parker, Tom Brandolini, Maggie Budzyna, Colin Budzyna, Teresa Spaulding, Dylan Wack, Jill Frances Gray, Sarah Pugh, Peter Leonard-Solis, Cheryl Fisher Schwind and Isabella Schwind. Performing in selected songs will be Ann Ormond, Maureen Daley and Louis Rubenfeld. Choreography: Cheryl Fisher Schwind. Set: James Atkins. Band: Jerad Lawson, musical director and keyboardist; Jamie Welch, bass; PJ Holaday, percussion; and Daniel Bryan, guitar. Director: Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan. Executive producer: Kimm Wilkinson.