Back in 1981, a new show came to town, and the buzz started before the piece ever started previews. People were saying it was an evil, devilish, drop-dead funny spoof of all things Broadway, and it was to be called “Forbidden Broadway”. It’s logo featured silhouettes of performers thumbing there nose at a sign that simply said, FORBIDDEN BROADWAY. Its creator was an unknown writer/composer, Gerard Allessandrini, and when it first opened at a supper club called Paulson’s, on the Upper West Side, I recall managing to get tickets to what was becoming the hottest show in town. And rightly so. Nothing had been done like this since Broadway revues in the 1950’s, and even they never had the guts to attack the great White Way with the gusto “Forbidden Broadway” had. If I recall correctly, the original spoofed “CATS”,”EVITA”, “AMADEUS”, Patti Lupone, Liza Minnelli and many many others, in hilarious parodies of the shows and the performers ,that had the actual writers, directors, and performers in the shows flocking to that little supper club to see themselves taken to the laundry and hung out to dry. It became huge, it became an immediate sensation not just here, but in LA, London, and all over the world. Up until a couple of years ago, there was always a “Forbidden Broadway” running somewhere in NYC, constantly changing, updating, and getting more deliciously malicious as time went on. One of Mr. Allessandrini’s favorite targets was Andrew LLoyd Weber, which did not go down well with the millionaire composer, who once tried to stop the show, threatening to sue; but the skits just got harsher and funnier, and Sir Andrew simply shut up and went his way. Over the years, the stars of “Forbidden Broadway” went on to bigger and more lucrative jobs, people like Bryan Batt, Bill Carmichael, the late Patrick Quinn, and the honey voiced Davis Gaines, but the cast was always a group well versed in improvisation and impersonation, able to mimic and skewer with ease. Then, “Forbidden Broadway” was gone, its audience seemingly gone.
Until now. The good news is “Forbidden Broadway, Alive And Kicking” , as this edition is called, is back off-Broadway at the 47th Street Theatre, and after more than 30 years, it’s rapier wit is still as razor sharp as ever. There are no names in this edition, the actors are new to off-Broadway, having cut their teeth working around the country in regional theater and national tours. But this cast is terrific, especially noteworthy is a small powerhouse, Jenny Lee Stern, whose Elena Rogers in “Evita” impression and her Tracie Bennetts in “End Of The Rainbow” impersonation are so dead-on, it’s scary. There are some old favorites in this edition, like the skewering of “Avenue Q”, “The Lion King”, “Wicked” and “Annie”, but the new stuff is beautifully sparkling and evil simultaneously. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” gets it, with a wicked parody of Matthew Broderick’s singing and dancing; there’s a hilarious attack on the Tony Award winning best musical, “Once”, with Ms. Stern doing a particularly spot-on Cristin Milioti; and the two men in the show, Scott Richard Foster and Marcus Stevens, rake “The Book of Mormon” over the coals, playing Trey Parker and Matt Stone extolling their own brilliance. My particular favorite came at the end, when the entire cast destroyed the current Diane Paulus-directed revival of “Porgy and Bess” that was gorgeous to behold, especially when ripping Mis Paulus to shreds, over her new “concept” for the durable opera written by the Gershwins, and turned into mush in its current incarnation. Bravo, Mr. Allessandrini for pointing out what a cut and paste job has been done to “Porgy And Bess”. As mentioned already, the Tracie Bennetts impression in “End Of The Rainbow” is so on target and so real, you need not see the show, which is a good idea, anyway. I get the feeling this “Forbidden Broadway” might mark the return of this likable warhorse.
Oh yes, “War Horse” gets it, too.
“Dogfight”, currently at Second Stage, and directed by the inimitable Joe Mantello, left a few critics cold, but, who cares, at the end of the day? This is a beautifully realized musical version of the wonderful Nancy Savoca movie that starred Lili Taylor and the late River Phoenix. You wouldn’t think the story of 3 Marines, on the eve of leaving for Vietnam, who make a wager on who can bring the ugliest girl to the dance, would lend itself to musicalization, but then, who would’ve imagined a musical about a vengeful barber who murders clients and has them ground into meat pies? That would be “Sweeney Todd”. I fell in love with this heartbreaking musical, all about the recklessness of youth and the coming to terms with life and fate. In particular, Derek Klena and Lindsay Mendez are the heart and soul of this work, which I hope goes on to bigger things and becomes this season what “Once” became last season. All in all, a quiet stunner.
Oh, yes, one final note. I finally got to the current revival of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man”. Is the person who told Cybill Shepherd she could actually act on stage the same person who told Ashley Judd she could play Maggie in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”?
I fear it might be. RUN, Forrest, RUN!!!