Review: FORBIDDEN BROADWAY Returns to OC's Segerstrom Center

The funny but slightly dated parody showcase returns with just a handful of updates, but also a few now cringe-inducing moments that show its age

By: Nov. 28, 2023
Review: FORBIDDEN BROADWAY Returns to OC's Segerstrom Center
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Something a little curious happened when Forbidden Broadway—the hit Broadway-skewering parody comedy show that pokes fun at popular shows and personalities from the Great White Way—arrived at Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Samueli Theatre for its recent limited return engagement that ran November 16-18, 2023.

Originally billed to be Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, the show that did open that Thursday evening (to a surprisingly filled-to-capacity room) felt very much like deja vu. With the show's familiar logo propped up on stage, what was presented instead was the return of the previous, "classic" Forbidden Broadway iteration, rather than the originally scheduled show that didn't go on as intended.  

Another curious sign: a double-sided sheet of paper serving as the new addendum "program"—with the subtitle "The Next Generation" omitted from the title—was placed next to the glossy pre-printed show bill that still listed the TNG version, listing four different actors' names instead that didn't match the names billed in The Next Generation credits listing on the pre-printed program (which, by way of the headshots featured, was going to be a younger and much more diverse cast than the ones we were going to get that evening). 

For the show that opened November 16, the four-person cast alternatively consisted of William Selby, Gina Kreiezmar, Kevin B. McGlynn, and Katherine Penny, with musical director Catherine Stornetta providing piano accompaniment for the two-act show (at press time, photos of this cast was not made available).

So what happened? Why the apparent switch from the "Next Generation" version to this seemingly "greatest hits" version? This possible mystery show-swap really puzzled me all night.

But, frankly, it might not have mattered which iteration was presented to that surprisingly packed audience that showed up on Opening Night, because the laughs were loud and plentiful. Actually, to be honest, I don't think I've ever seen that room that full in my many years of seeing shows here—and this intimate cabaret space has played host to the likes of stage superstars Sutton Foster, Chita Rivera, Kelli O'Hara, Laura Benanti, and Brian Stokes Mitchell! 

Clearly, this parody institution—created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini—has built up a rabid following for years, and their west coast fan contingent all seemed to have shown up here that night.

Filled with a non-stop conveyor belt of (mostly) funny parodies of (mostly) past and (a few) recent Broadway musicals—and many of the famous actors that star in these musicals—this vintage-skewing Forbidden Broadway presented funny, bitingly sarcastic send-ups using clever, often witty new lyrics combined with exaggerated sight gags that lampooned the iconic and familiar visuals Broadway fans have associated with hit shows such as WICKED, ANNIE, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and LES MIS, just to name a few. Some of the hilarious targets for their comedic barbs also included famous Broadway stars like Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli, Stephen Sondheim, and even Ethel Merman.

Much of the comedy genuinely still holds up, but there were also a lot of jokes that felt like it was funnier and more timely and relevant, like, maybe a decade or two ago. 

I say this because in the encore iteration Costa Mesa received, there still seemed to be a lot of focus on making fun of shows they felt were "greed-motivated" productions, particularly the Disney-themed and Cameron Mackintosh ones (aren't all shows motivated to make a profit?). While that commentary may still ring true in some respects, the repetitiveness of this particular criticism about these shows existing only to make a fast buck felt a little tired and old-school when repeated ad nauseam here in 2023. 

Other outdated references include calling THE LION KING a "highfalutin' puppet show," an impersonation of Robert Goulet (which I'm pretty certain many under the age of 40 in the audience do not know), and a cute but repetitive mocking of Cameron Mackintosh shows summarized by the presence of "Souvenir Things" (set to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, natch).

Parodies of LES MIZ, CATS, ANNIE, MARY POPPINS, JERSEY BOYS, and WICKED and roasts of Stephen Sondheim, Liza Minnelli, and Bernadette Peters still made me chuckle out loud because of their still-relevant timelessness of what they're being lampooned for, but there were a few moments in the show (past sketches that have been revived here) that actually made me and my friend feel incredibly uncomfortable and had us cringing, particularly as we are both people of color.

In one sketch, Kreiezmar and Penny (whom I can only assume are both not Latina) do a "classic" Forbidden Broadway parody that had them each playing dueling WEST SIDE STORY actresses Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno. The basis of the sketch itself is amusing, but watching them affect over-exaggerated Latin accents and stereotypes were truly cringe moments (especially for my friend who is Afro-Latino). It's a bit of a shame, really, because Kreiezmar and Penny are actually really funny comediennes and superb vocalists.

Later, the second act opened with a white actor dressed as Rafiki from THE LION KING, followed by a skewering of HAMILTON that claimed that homosexuality on Broadway is apparently out and no longer fashionable, and that being "Straight is Back." Unsurprisingly, the expected OC demographic in attendance enjoyed every bit of it.

Possibly the "newest" of the parody sketches of recent shows were ones lampooning Ben Platt's over-complicated vocalizations in DEAR EVAN HANSEN and something about having "diamonds up my wazoo" that was a send up of the MOULIN ROUGE! stage adaptation. Also new for myself (that I never saw in past iterations) was a satire of FROZEN (lyrics to "Let It Go" were replaced with "Overblown") as well as sort of awkward caricatures of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of THE BOOK OF MORMON that kind of fell a bit flat. 

By far, though, my favorite sketches from the show remain the parody of ANNIE, poking fun at the aging of the actresses that were tasked to play the title character, and the double-whammy of LES MIS songs "God It's High" (set to "Bring Him Home" that finds Valjean complaining about the stratospheric high notes needed to sing the show tune) and "On My Phone" (set to, of course, "On My Own") lamenting that "new" device called a cell phone.

While a majority of the show is indeed genuinely funny, not all sketches—as I've explained above—were gems. And, for the most part, the four actors (particularly the energetic, fluidly more agile women) were a hard-working bunch, able to switch costumes and characterizations at a (literal) drop of a hat. I was especially impressed with Kreiezmar's impersonation of Ms. Minnelli that had her mimicking the living legend's voice and mannerisms that didn't seem at all to be mean-spirited. 

Though I am, naturally, still curious as to what the "Next Generation" version of Forbidden Broadway was going to be, this make-shift "greatest hits" version that we got at Segerstrom Center instead proved to be a rousing hit amongst the patrons in attendance. I do, however, still wish someone in the production had the wherewithal to review these aging sketches to see if they still hold up… or if they are now, perhaps, culturally insensitive for today's more diverse audiences. If this show is to continue adapting with the times, that should probably be an ongoing priority for its material.

[Editorial Correction: in a message to this reviewer, cast member Gina Kreiezmar disclosed that she is, in fact, of Hispanic descent and is fluent in Spanish. She is the daughter of a Cuban father and a Turkish mother who met and married in Cuba before moving to Miami where Kreiezmar was later born and raised. The reviewer regrets the assumption made in the original review and extends an apology to Ms. Kreiezmar for the error and thanks for the clarification.]

* Follow this reviewer on Twitter / Instagram / Threads: @cre8iveMLQ *

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Tickets to upcoming performances at Segerstrom Center for the Arts can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

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