If Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! does not rank among the strongest editions of Gerard Alessandrini’s long-running, much-beloved revue parodying current and classic Broadway musicals, it still offers a great deal of fun for musical theater aficionados. Consisting of just four actors and a pianist, Forbidden Broadway is considerably smaller in size than the Broadway musicals that it highlights. But it is enlivened by the endless wit and considerable bite of Alessandrini’s lyrics, which are combined with the actual music from each show.
In 2012, Forbidden Broadway came back to New York after a prolonged hiatus and ran for just under a year, leaving it unclear when and whether the show would return again. Another year later, it has thankfully returned, now playing at the newly renovated Davenport Theatre in midtown. A handful of songs have been carried over from the most recent edition, and its elaborate, often-seen Les Miz sequence has been tweaked to address the current Broadway revival, but it offers plenty of new material tackling more recent shows.
Some of the new material is fantastic, especially a skewering of The Bridges of Madison County and its ego-driven, showboat songwriter Jason Robert Brown, a lively confrontation between Michelle Williams and Liza Minnelli over their conflicting interpretations of Sally Bowles in Cabaret and a deconstruction of the live television broadcast of The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood (nicknamed “Carrie Underwhelming”).
But many of the other new sketches fail to land, including those devoted to Matilda, Pippin and Kinky Boots, perhaps due to an inability to find a proper angle from which to make fun of those shows. As such, those sequences come off as labored and tedious. (Forbidden Broadway tends to work best with shows that take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, it’s hard to spoof a comedy.) The lack of an original opening number before the traditional Forbidden Broadway anthem also starts things off on an unusually dull note. This new edition also lacks a discernible theme. The title – Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! – is just a lame nod to Rocky.
The four members of the cast, who portray numerous individuals and undergo countless costume changes, all deliver the required larger-than-life energy, though Marcus Stevens easily stands out with his hilariously detailed renditions of Harvey Fierstein, Mandy Patinkin and others. However, it may be time to add an African American performer, as it’s extremely awkward to try and portray Audra McDonald and Patina Miller with an all-Caucasian cast.
Assuming Forbidden Broadway sticks around this time, chances are that it will come together as new shows open and more targets to parody come along.