'Forbidden Broadway' spoofs the hit shows

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  July 2, 2002 at 11:16 AM
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NEW YORK, July 2 (UPI) -- The 20th anniversary "Forbidden Broadway" revue spoofs hit theater shows with lambasting wit and uproarious satire that its creator and author, Gerard Alessandrini, finds more difficult to sustain with each production.

Alessandrini hit a gold mine in 1982 with his saucy almost annual show that pricks the foibles of Broadway. The theater then had more original plays and fewer retread revivals and an abundance of classy musicals rather than Disney spectaculars. And it had nationally known stars instead of slumming television and film personalities.

There's no fun in lampooning mediocrity, Alessandrini says.

"Stars have been the essence of 'Forbidden Broadway,' but in recent years it has become difficult to find true theater talents that are easily recognized by the public as were Carol Channing, Rex Harrison, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Robert Preston, and Liza Minnelli," he pointed out in an interview.

Last year Alessandrini gave a good shellacking, as he calls it, to Mel Brooks for his "The Producers" and this year he had Elaine Stritch and Bea Arthur to satirize as a result of their one-woman Broadway shows. He needs instantly recognizable names to work with because "Forbidden Broadway" is a national institution, playing cities in 30 states and American cruise ships around the world.

So he isn't above keeping an old takeoff on Merman in the show, having her sing "There's no Broadway like Old Broadway on Broadway today." The show makes reference to the ancient recognition mixup that has plagued Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno and brings Minnelli back for the umpteenth time to sing "I'm getting married for the fourth time" to the tune of "I'm Getting Married in the Morning."

And Julie Andrews is reprised to sing a tasteless lament titled "My Upper Range Is Dead" about her failed vocal chord operation. But on the whole, Alessandrini's latest parodies, currently playing at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater, are deliciously fresh, subversive as ever, almost consistently entertaining, and always funnier than they are mean.

The cast, consisting of Donna English, Daniel Reichard, Kristine Zbornik and Michael West, is a versatile lot who can change character in an instant by assuming a body posture or making a characteristic gesture, aided by 90 costume changes. West, a fine character actor, is the best among equals and has been the star of his own one-man show parodying entertainment stars with another such show in the works for Off-Broadway.

"Forbidden Broadway" is performed on a stage empty except for a grand piano, which gifted Glenn Gordon can make sound like a pit orchestra, and a backdrop of silver lame curtains. The show opens with a flurry of quick impressions -- Bob Fosse ("Give them the old saucy"), "Annie" ("I'm 30 Years Old Tomorrow), "Les Miserables" ("You can smell the formaldehyde"), and "Oklahoma!" (the title song sung to new words, "Oh, Revivals!"

"The Lion King" is dismissed as "Hamlet on Safari" and "Beauty and the Beast" is memorialized as "The show as old as time." Cameron MacIntosh brags about the theater lobby profits made from selling "My Souvenir Things," and Stritch and Arthur (a female impersonation) recall their reputations as boozers. Kathleen Turner sings that she is "The new Mrs. Robinson" in "The Graduate," using "the same old bag of tricks from my flicks."

Mandy Patinkin's vocal talents get a mauling as he sings "Somewhat over-indulgent/ Like I'm high" to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and confides to the audience, "You won't recognize the tune once I'm through." A petulant Stephen Sondheim warns the audience "You're supposed to be listening, if you don't, you'll miss the point" when attending "Into the Woods," noting that a Sondheim musical is not by Jerry Herman.

"Mamma Mia!" comes in for savage satire for its ABBA disco origins, but the show is silent on the 2002 Tony Award-winning musical, "Thoroughly Modern Millie." That will be remedied in the near future by Alessandrini when he adds Millie material to the show. As for Edward Albee's play about bestiality, "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?," which won the Tony Award for best play, the show has Albee admitting "You've got to be disgusting if you want a hit today."

Alessandrini recalls he had only been out of Boston Conservatory of Music and living in New York two years when he first staged "Forbidden Broadway" after studying writing at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. It was an instant hit and took over his life, although he originally intended to write legitimate Broadway musicals. His faithful collaborator is Phillip George, co-director and choreographer of the show.

"If I could prescribe for the ailing commercial theater, so often referred to as 'The Fabulous Invalid,' I would suggest that the theater-going public be more selective about what it attends and supports," Alessandrini said.

"We strip a show of its million-dollar lights, sets and hype, and tell our audience in so many words: 'This is the essence of what you paid $90 to see on Broadway. Isn't that ridiculous? Laugh at yourself as well as them.' And they do."

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