KPBS AIRDATE: October 6, 1994
Theater people just love navel-watching, mirror-gazing and finger-pointing. There are plays a-plenty about writing plays, producing plays, acting in plays. And then there are plays about other people’s plays. But no one has developed this mocking genre to as relentless an art-form as Gerard Alessandrini, who’s been spoofing other productions for 12 years in “Forbidden Broadway.”
Now The Theatre in Old Town, recently gone for-profit, is bringing us, fresh from a 6-month L.A. run, “Forbidden Broadway ’94.” Don’t worry. You can appreciate this manic mayhem even if you’ve never darkened a doorstep on the Great White Way. But if you like musicals, if you’ve seen musicals, and especially if you know musicals, you’re gonna howl.
This isn’t just some lame lampooning; these are pros, chameleons of an incredible kind. And they’re directed by Alessandrini himself, the wiz who penned the parodies. Almost every one of the 26 taunts is priceless; this is, after all, the best of the “Forbidden” best. Four singers and an onstage pianist walk you through the last decade of Broadway musicals with teeth bared and claws sharpened. Actually, some of the spoofs are less acerbic than you’d expect. But some are razor-sharp, and scathing.
Take, for example, David Benoit’s demi-masked Michael Crawford, who’s accused of using a phony voice and excess reverb to dupe the audience into thinking he can sing better than he does.
Then there’s Christine Pedi’s frenetic, neurotic Liza Minelli and Susanne Blakeslee’s big-mouthed, belting Ethel Merman, singing a slightly twisted, self-indulgent version of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” (SOUND)
Mandy Patinkin also gets a drubbing for being self-indulgent, as do Carol Channing, Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Tommy Tune and Barbra Streisand. It’s hard to inflate the already overinflated egos being satirized here. But with the costuming perfect, and the choreography perfectly parodied, there’s always room for another gentle jab at an icon, or a flat-out kick in the butt.
Perhaps the most familiar recipients of potshots are the locally grown “Damn Yankees” and “The Who’s Tommy.” Just to see the four talent-mongers step onstage clothed in white shorts and knee sox with bowl mop-top haircuts, staring at their palms in autistic self-absorption, is funny enough. Then they mention Des McAnuff a couple of times. And mock the staging, the technology and the lack of story-line (SOUND).
The most clever parodies are of “Les Misérables,” with its interminable turntable, and “Into the Woods,” with a fast-talking singalong of nearly Sondheim-clever lyrics.
There’s a laugh here for everyone of any age; those who don’t remember Mary Martin will surely chuckle over “Annie,” “Evita” and Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Or were Annie and Evita Broadway’s Beauty and the Beast? Ah, forget it….
But don’t forget to see “Forbidden Broadway.” This buoyant revue, with its four outrageously versatile singers, proves that the American musical theater is alive and kicking. But, as the lyrics lament in the “Damn Yankees,” segment, Broadway would benefit from fewer animal and object characters, stronger plotlines, less technology …and more “Heart.” (SOUND)
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.