Published in KPBS On Air Magazine February 1995
“The meaner, the funnier,” said Stephen Sondheim. And Gerard Alessandrini often complied. The writer/director has spent the last 13 years spoofing Broadway musicals in his award-winning creation, “Forbidden Broadway”. Now he’s turning his jaded eye Westward, for “Forbidden Hollywood”, which has its world premiere at the Theatre in Old Town (previews begin January 20; opening date still not set).
It all started many years ago, when young Gerard and his friends would write and perform lampoons of films, TV and stage musicals. By the time he got to the Boston Conservatory of Music, where he studied musical theater performance, he was creating a good deal of the inspired satire that has become his trademark, with productions of “Forbidden Broadway” (actually, the best of the last decade of the constantly-updated show) having traveled around the U.S., Australia, England, and Japan.
He’s pleasantly surprised that “Forbidden Broadway” has lasted this long. It’s become a virtual cottage industry, what with T-shirts, CDs and multiple touring and regional productions. Alessandrini also created “Masterpiece Cabaret”, which parodies great works of literature. Following the “If it ain’t broke…” philosophy, “Forbidden Hollywood” will be, as Alessandrini puts it, “in the same vein” (i.e., jugular) as “Forbidden Broadway”. “This is new ground,” says the irreverent satirist. “But it’s very refreshing.”
Alessandrini used to write material for himself, when he first appeared in “Forbidden Broadway”, but his specialties — Richard Burton, Robert Preston, Yul Brynner — “are no longer pertinent.” Now he doesn’t perform much, but he directs almost all the productions; he may fill in for an actor/singer once in a while, and he lent his voice to the off-camera film choruses of “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” He has a stable of about 25 actor/singer chameleons who’ve participated in various “FB” productions, and they’ll be featured in the new piece as well. In casting “Forbidden Hollywood”, he selected the two talented women and the pianist (Brad Ellis, with whom Alessandrini is also working on a book musical) that San Diego audiences raved about in “FB” last fall.
For this show, prepare yourself for ultra-clever spoofs of some of your film favorites, old and new, cast in a musical light: Biblical flicks, “The Wizard of Oz,” Meryl Streep, Madonna, Robert DeNiro, Julie Andrews, Marlon Brando and the merry new three-pronged studio-head (Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen). “It’s kind of like “That’s Entertainment,” explains Alessandrini, “a Laugh-a-rama with its claws out.” He isn’t giving away much, but he did mention a Mel Gibson sendup, “Lethal Hamlet.” And a Francis Ford Coppola number, “I’ll Blow the Budget at Paramount,” sung to the tune of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.”
On the phone from his home-base in New York, Alessandrini sounds surprisingly mellow, not fast-talking, quippy or sharp-tongued. “People say I’m more vicious when I write,” he says, “but I think I’m pretty bad around the house, too…. To me, it always seems I’m doing what I do with a great amount of affection… I wouldn’t do anything that’s harsh or villainous without being funny, and in good taste… I’m not like ‘Comedy Central.'”
Some are quite satisfied with the sarcasm just the way he serves it. Sondheim, for instance (see above). And Carol Channing, who’s become the mascot of “Forbidden Broadway”, and has asked that she never be taken out of the show. “There have never been any repercussions,” says Alessandrini. “At least, no one was offended in public. Being spoofed only means you’re successful and well known.” And that’s good press for any artist.
This production is also, of course, good press for the Theatre in Old Town, which has done nothing but increase its profile and professionalism in the three years since SDSU’s Musical Theatre director, Paula Kalustian, took the helm. Last May, Kalustian and partner Jill Anthony incorporated and went for-profit, as Miracle Theatre Productions. They have a new lease on the theater (which is owned by the State of California). Their first for-profit venture was “Forbidden Broadway”, directed by Alessandrini, and it was a held-over smash which ran for 15 weeks.
“We want to be known as the off-Broadway musical theater of San Diego,” says Kalustian, “doing 3-5 small shows a year, commercial, off-the-beaten-track, irreverent work, with open-ended runs. Kind of like Lincoln Center, with memberships rather than subscriptions.” Kalustian is pleased with the new arrangement, and so is Alessandrini.
“The Theater in Old Town is ideal,” he says. “A medium-sized theater with good sight-lines and acoustics. A very organized, well-run operation. Small but well handled, giving real hands-on treatment.” Everyone anticipates an L.A. opening of “Forbidden Hollywood” in the Spring, probably coinciding with the Academy Awards ceremony. Following its “out-of-town tryout” here, the show will probably work its way to New York eventually. In the meantime, San Diego gets first dibs. And first laugh rights.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.