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Review: ‘Forbidden’ never sounded so good

YOUNGSTOWN — A couple of weeks ago in my column I wrote about “Schmigadoon!,” the Apple TV+ series that lovingly spoofs some of the conventions of musical theater.

Rust Belt Theater Company’s “Forbidden Youngstown” does the same with community theater, only with a more brass-knuckles approach.

“Forbidden Youngstown,” written and directed by Robert Dennick Joki, hits hard and lands plenty of hilarious blows about showmances, aging stage veterans and actors whose lives revolve around their rehearsal schedule and dreams of being “Youngstown famous.”

Even community theater audiences take their lumps in a song with a title I can’t print.

Audiences will recognize the melodies as Joki uses favorites from “Chicago,” “Frozen,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Grease,” “Rent” and other popular musicals as the foundation for his comedic daggers.

The show gives everyone in the 10-person cast — Nicole Zayas, Lisa Torrence, Kage Coven, Celena Coven, Lynn Sabeh, Jessica Patoray, Janelle Yohman, Jash Yohman, Jeremy Grimes and P.K. Lankford — a chance to shine.

Sabeh and Kage Coven are magnificent on “Showmance,” a song about those intense off-stage romances that end abruptly after the closing curtain of the final performance.

Jash Yohman and Torrence deliver the laughs in “I’m Not Gay,” a song about the stereotypes that men who love musical theater or women who work on the stage crew hear. And Jash and Janelle Yohman add plenty of physical humor to “60 Going on 70.”

The best one-two punch in the show may be a pair of songs about the two things community theaters can do to guarantee an audience — Celena Coven leading an “All That Jazz”-inspired song about showing some skin called “Underpants,” followed by Lankford singing about the box-office benefits of adding some religion on “We Need a Little Jesus.”

Many of the inspirations here are easy targets, but one can’t help but admire the total commitment to the joke. Sung to “Will I” from “Rent” is “This Song Is Mostly Filler,” a tune about those musical numbers that mostly exist to give the leads a breather, allow for a costume change or, perhaps, a bathroom break. It’s a full cast number that featured some of the best group vocals of the night — all built around a poop joke.

While most of the comedy is lyrically driven, credit also goes to Joki and the cast for the choreography and physical bits that put an exclamation point on the jokes. “A Show About Cats,” a song about the musical “Cats,” is one of the only songs that may go on too long, but it’s saved by a feline behavior of the actors.

As the song titles and descriptions might indicate, “Forbidden Youngstown” is both adult … and very juvenile. In the local theater community, Rust Belt is the precocious 6-year-old who always says something outrageous at the dinner table. Part of you doesn’t want to encourage it, but it’s just too funny not to laugh.

Rust Belt first staged “Forbidden Youngstown” in 2013, but for one reason or another, it’s one of the few perennials in its repertoire that I’d never seen before.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. “Forbidden Youngstown” will remind audiences of everything they missed about live theater during the pandemic as well as some of the things they didn’t realize they missed.

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