Theater: "Forbidden Broadway" Is Back and As Bitchy As Ever

After three years away sharpening its claws and waiting for fresh meat likeandto appear,is back with a revue that pokes delicious fun at the Great White Way.
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After three years away sharpening its claws and waiting for fresh meat like Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark and Newsies to appear, Forbidden Broadway is back with a revue that pokes delicious fun at the Great White Way.

It's an institution created by Gerard Alessandrini more than 30 years ago, one so beloved by the community it even won a special Tony Award. And somehow I never saw it. The same was true of the original Fantasticks, which ran and ran and ran and ran and then it closed and I said, "Darn! I should have seen that!" (No, I haven't seen the revival either, though I imagine Forbidden Broadway had fun with that beloved musical playing at the Snapple Theatre.)

Happily, after hearing about it for all these years, Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking is exactly what I expected: it takes wicked shots at some shows, highlights the foibles of actors who can't sing, bemoans the commercialization of Broadway, offers up amusing impersonations of famed stars but darn it, no matter how hard they try to be mean-spirited, their love of theater and the frustrating, egotistical, talented, wonderful people who put it on shines through.

Before we get to the zingers, I'll say that Alessandrini is in fine form (though of course, I've nothing to compare it to). The ratio of hits to misses is strong and the overall creativity solid. It never became off the charts funny (except for a few moments) but it was never dull either. You don't need to have seen the shows to enjoy the parodies; indeed, as I'm certain many critics have said before, going to see Forbidden Broadway is probably a lot more fun than most of the new shows that come and go each season. Alessandrini wrote everything and directed alongside Phillip George. David Caldwell (the talent behind the promising musical Gotta Getta Girl) is back behind the piano as musical director.

The costumes by Philip Heckman and wigs by Bobbie Cliffton Zlotnik are inventive on a dime (and maybe the cast is all alone backstage, but if someone is helping them quick change from one outfit to the next, they are probably the hardest working person there). All four cast members are game and genial, but it must be said that the women outshine the men throughout and Jenny Lee Stern shines brightest (though Natalie Charle Ellis came on strong in the second act.

Most Broadway performers can probably enjoy the gentle and not-so-gentle ribbing of Forbidden Broadway but I doubt the vocally challenged Elena Roger of Evita will be stopping by anytime soon. Stern is hilarious here, though the target is such a slam dunk (Roger literally couldn't sing her role and seemed to disappear even when onstage for minutes at a time) that Alessandrini couldn't have missed with this one if he tried. No wonder it's the first dart tossed; knowing that the tune "Buenos Aires" repeats over and over that Evita has "star quality" (the very thing Roger lacks) makes this almost too easy. But what puts it over is Stern's hilarious enunciation of every lyric, though Marcus Stevens sets the tone for the guys by being an amiable but soft-focused Ricky Martin, goofy a la most improv but not quite dead-on.

He does better teasing Matthew Broderick for barely being able to dance in a musical (back surgery didn't help) and here Marcus does a terrific vocal zinger on Broderick's speaking voice.

A spoof on Annie called Granny doesn't really land (okay, so it's a 35 year old musical; so what?), but like every other number here, it's put over with energy and is soon over: more than 20 shows (and a TV show) get spoofed here in under two hours (including an intermission) so in the tradition of the Borscht Belt, if you don't like a joke, just wait a minute and another one will be along soon to take its place.

The mocking of the serious Once (my favorite musical of last year) was fun, with star Steve Kazee's singing another example of finding an actor's quirk and exploiting it for amusement; it's a highlight of Scott Richard Foster's night. That was followed by Ellis and her broad vocal range used to marvelous effect in "Feed The 'Burbs," a naughty spin on Mary Poppins and the tourist trade. Ellis was even better in another highlight, the full-on hilarious sketch surrounding Porgy & Bess (I mean, The Gershwin's Porgy & Bess), with Ellis spot-on doing Audra McDonald both vocally and as an actress.

There were lulls too: the finale involved The Book Of Mormon but I don't think Alessandrini cracked that code yet; the South Park guys clearly mock themselves along with everyone else and the idea that they disdain Broadway and its traditions doesn't fly (especially since one of the songs the show spoofs -- "I Believe" -- is itself a loving send-up of "I Have Confidence" from The Sound Of Music).

But no matter. The evening is fun and breezy and the temptation to return in six months or a year and see what they're teasing next is understandable. Especially if Jenny Lee Stern is still in the show. She does an hilarious Patti LuPone (alongside Stevens as Mandy Patinkin), nails The Jersey Boys, Bernadette Peters and pretty much everyone else in her path. Saturday Night Live should jump on her talents right away.

THE THEATER SEASON 2012-2013 (on a four star scale)

As You Like it (Shakespeare in the Park withLily Rabe) ****
Chimichangas And Zoloft *
Closer Than Ever ***
Cock ** 1/2
Harvey with Jim Parsons *
My Children! My Africa! ***
Once On This Island ***
Potted Potter *
Storefront Church ** 1/2
Title And Deed ***
Picture Incomplete (NYMF) **
Flambe Dreams (NYMF) **
Rio (NYMF) **
The Two Month Rule (NYMF) *
Trouble (NYMF) ** 1/2
Stealing Time (NYMF) **
Requiem For A Lost Girl (NYMF) ** 1/2
Re-Animator The Musical (NYMF) ***
Baby Case (NYMF) ** 1/2
How Deep Is The Ocean (NYMF) ** 1/2
Central Avenue Breakdown (NYMF) ***
Foreverman (NYMF) * 1/2
Swing State (NYMF) * 1/2
Stand Tall: A Rock Musical (NYMF) * 1/2
Living With Henry (NYMF) *
A Letter To Harvey Milk (NYMF) ** 1/2
The Last Smoker In America **
Gore Vidal's The Best Man (w new cast) ***
Into The Woods at Delacorte ** 1/2
Bring It On: The Musical **
Bullet For Adolf *
Summer Shorts Series B: Paul Rudnick, Neil LaBute, etc. **
Harrison, TX ***
Dark Hollow: An Appalachian "Woyzeck" (FringeNYC) * 1/2
Pink Milk (FringeNYC)* 1/2
Who Murdered Love (FringeNYC) no stars
Storytime With Mr. Buttermen (FringeNYC) **
#MormonInChief (FringeNYC) **
An Interrogation Primer (FringeNYC) ***
An Evening With Kirk Douglas (FringeNYC) *
Sheherizade (FringeNYC) **
The Great Pie Robbery (FringeNYC) ** 1/2
Independents (FringeNYC) *** 1/2
The Dick and The Rose (FringeNYC) **
Magdalen (FringeNYC) ***
Bombsheltered (FringeNYC) ** 1/2
Paper Plane (FringeNYC) ** 1/2
Rated M For Murder (FringeNYC) ** 1/2
Mallory/Valerie (FringeNYC) *
Non-Equity: The Musical! (FringeNYC) *
Blanche: The Bittersweet Life Of A Prairie Dame (FringeNYC) *** 1/2
City Of Shadows (FringeNYC) ***
Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking ***
Salamander Starts Over (FringeNYC) ***
Pieces (FringeNYC) *
The Train Driver ***
Chaplin The Musical * 1/2
Detroit ** 1/2
Heartless at Signature **
Einstein On The Beach at BAM ****
Red-Handed Otter ** 1/2
Marry Me A Little **
An Enemy Of The People ** 1/2
The Old Man And The Old Moon *** 1/2
A Chorus Line at Papermill ***
Helen & Edgar ***
Grace * 1/2
Cyrano de Bergerac **
Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? ***
Disgraced **
Annie ** 1/2
The Heiress **
Checkers ** 1/2
Ivanov ***
Golden Child at Signature ** 1/2
Giant at the Public *** 1/2
Scandalous * 1/2
Forever Dusty **
The Performers **
The Piano Lesson at Signature *** 1/2
Un Ballo In Maschera at the Met *** 1/2 (singing) * (production) so call it ** 1/2
A Christmas Story: The Musical **
The Sound Of Music at Papermill ***
My Name Is Asher Lev *** 1/2
Golden Boy **
A Civil War Christmas ** 1/2
Dead Accounts **
The Anarchist *
Glengarry Glen Ross **
Bare **
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood ** 1/2
The Great God Pan ** 1/2

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.

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