It's hard to believe that Gerard Alessandrini launched his showbiz spoof Forbidden Broadway 25 years ago.
Having bounced from theater to theater since then, the revue currently resides at the cozy 47th Street Theatre. The current edition aims its barbs at new Broadway shows as well as warhorses like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables . Some skits are snarkier and funnier than others, but overall Alessandrini's parody hasn't lost its zing (or its sting).
The subtitle refers of course to the arty hit Spring Awakening , and the spoofing begins with a cute bit about onstage seating. Unfortunately, the opening Spring number isn't one of Alessandrini's wittiest. (There's a better one in the second act in which Melchior removes a microphone from his pants.) The first act quickly improves, however, with a withering take on Mary Poppins (positively putrid in every possible way) and Curtains (Jared Bradshaw's David Hyde Pierce sings of slow people,i.e. the audience). Janet Dickinson does a nice job as Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens (spelling out C-L-O-S-E-D in place of S-T-A-U-N-C-H), and James Donegan's Raul Esparza sings of Being Intense (from the similarly closed Company). A number about the dumbing down of Broadway features the aptly renamed Grease Frightening.
The first act comes to an uproarious close with an extended Les Miz parody that incorporates material from earlier versions of Forbidden Broadway. In addition to the still-amusing sight of the actors getting dizzy on a turntable, Valerie Fagan's Eponine sings of being On My Phone.(Where are you guys? Act Two?" she asks a friend. We're still in Act One!)
While nothing in the show's second half equals the Les Miz takeoff, there are some zippy sendups. Hairspray cast members (including the movie's John Travolta) bop to You Can't Stop the Camp! and as Idina Menzel in Wicked Fagan proclaims, No one's going to turn my volume down! After all the pointed jabs at dumbed-down shows and dumb audiences, the sentimental finale What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line feels out of place.
Alessandrini wants us to know he still loves Broadway, but it feels like a last-minute change of heart.
Despite a few minor missteps, this Forbidden Broadway-codirected by Alessandrini and Phillip George and featuring clever costumes by Alvin Colt-is fast-paced, sharp, and smart. Which is more than can be said for most of the shows it skewers.