Obituaries

Nora Mae Lyng, 66, actress at the heart of ‘Forbidden Broadway’

NEW YORK — Nora Mae Lyng, a brassy actress and singer who collaborated with Gerard Alessandrini to create and star in “Forbidden Broadway,” that campy, saucy, and enduring off-Broadway sendup of legitimate theater, died May 4 in Manhattan. She was 66.

Her daughter, Phoebe Lyng Kmeck, said the cause was breast cancer.

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Ms. Lyng would eventually make it to Broadway herself. But her most durable claim to fame was as the inspiration for “Forbidden Broadway,” which formally opened in 1982 and developed a cult following as it reemerged for decades in various incarnations in New York and other cities around the world.

“I created it for her,” Alessandrini said in a phone interview.

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Ms. Lyng (pronounced “Ling”) not only inspired the original show and starred in its original cast; she also invested her comic talent and meager financial resources in it.

Without Ms. Lyng, Alessandrini said, “I don’t think it would have had such a success and become such an eyebrow-raising entity.”

“Forbidden Broadway” was “the most successful musical series in the history of off-Broadway,” Thomas S. Hischak wrote in “Off-Broadway Musicals Since 1919: From Greenwich Village Follies to The Toxic Avenger” (2011).

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A frisky spoof of Broadway musicals, the revue ran for six years and 2,332 performances at Palsson’s Supper Club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before moving to Theater East on the Upper East Side in 1988.

“Forbidden Broadway,” which was given the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theater in 2006, has been updated and revived periodically in New York. In 2014, it was presented as “Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging,” an homage to the Broadway version of “Rocky.” Versions are still playing in other American cities and even abroad. (Alessandrini’s latest Broadway show, “Spamilton,” a sendup of “Hamilton,” opened in September.)

In the original “Forbidden Broadway,” Ms. Lyng impersonated a vituperative Patti LuPone regretting the loss of her role in the movie version of “Evita”; a bellowing Ethel Merman (“Curtain up, light the lights, and you better turn off all the mikes”); and other stars, including Lauren Bacall, Linda Ronstadt, and Jennifer Holliday.

She preferred to call her roles “caricatures” rather than parodies or impersonations.

Alessandrini and Ms. Lyng each invested several hundred dollars in the first version of “Forbidden Broadway,” far from enough to pay for a press agent or advertising.

But a loyal following emerged after rave newspaper reviews, growing word-of-mouth, and forgiving or even congratulatory feedback from some of the Broadway celebrities who gamely sat through performances in which they were mocked.

Newsweek magazine lauded Ms. Lyng’s “Klieg-powered smile.” Frank Rich, in The New York Times, called her “a striking mimic.” Reviewing her return engagement in 1985, Mel Gussow described her in The Times as “an adorable clown who is a one-woman gallery of animated Hirschfeld caricatures,” referring to the celebrated artist whose theatrical illustrations appeared regularly in The Times.

She also received lavish notices for her performance in another self-referential off-Broadway production, “Tales of Tinseltown,” in 1985.

Ms. Lyng met a fellow actor, George Kmeck, at an audition for “Arsenic and Old Lace” in Kearny, N.J., and they married and had children.

After “Forbidden Broadway,” Ms. Lyng’s he made her Broadway debut at 34 as Mother Rabbit in the 1985 musical “The Wind in the Willows.”

While it closed after four regular performances, she persevered and later appeared in seven other Broadway productions, including “Three Men on a Horse” (1993), “Into the Woods” (2002), and “Amour” (2002).

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