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Forbidden Broadway Rude Awakening: Mama, Who Bored Me...

WARNING:  The following review contains a lot of punch lines, which is a bit unavoidable when describing a show where every moment is a punch line.  If you'd rather not read them, I'll just summarize the following paragraphs as "Go see the new Forbidden Broadway.  It's great."

The genius of Gerard Alessandrini is that he managed to create a theatrical institution out of what has always been a common backstage pastime.  Long before Forbidden Broadway celebrated the "great white way where the white is gray and the great is only okay," you'd be sure to find one or two jokers writing parody lyrics in nearly every theatre company, whether it's to jibe at a Sky Masterson who isn't exactly pitch perfect ("My kind of song is a flat song") or to entertain at cast parties with a smutty version of Show Boat's "Misery' (You'll have to Emil me privately for that one).  But it was Alessandrini who packaged his parody lyrics into a full cabaret show 25 years ago and has been continually delivering sharp, insightful and, above all, loving lambastings of Broadway's finest and not so finest alike.

So consistent is the high quality of the ever updated Forbidden Broadway that reviewing the show is more a matter of determining how funny it is in comparison with past installments.  The newest edition, Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening may not be most vicious version of the show (Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back holds that honor), nor is it as full of insider humor as in the early days at Palsson's (After the quick closings of Rosa and A Doll's Life he penned. "Have you heard the latest news/Harold Prince now is shining shoes./Well, did you evah?/What a swell season this is.") but it certainly ranks up there among the best.

The title, of course, is taken from Spring Awakening and though the author does have some fun with its stylized choreography and graphically sexual lyrics ("Totally Bleeped"), he also reminds viewers that shows like West Side Story and Cabaret were considered by many to be just as shocking in their day and that today's counterculture usually winds up being tomorrow's family entertainment.

No, the real target this time is the dumbing down of Broadway, a theme that pops up throughout the evening.  David Hyde Pierce sings how his untrained singing and dancing performance appeals to a special kind of people known as "Slow People" ("To the uninformed straight/If you're famous you're great.") while Brian F. O'Bryne, mourning the the lack of serious drama on the main stem, is consoled by cast members of Grease, Xanadu and Mamma Mia! celebrating (to the tune of "Summer Nights") "Dumber Broadway."  Christine Ebersole laments the closing of Grey Gardens observing, "That's the evolution of the musical today./You want a fresh ide-a/They give you Mamma Mia!."  And even though it hasn't hit New York yet, it seems Alessandrini expects The Little Mermaid to be another example of marketing over artistry ("You want souvenir dolls?  We've got 20!").

On a more serious note, though presented in silly fashion, Cole Porter's "Don't Monkey With Broadway," sung by Wicked's flying chorus members, recognizes the increasing loss of fine old theatre spaces to make way for chain stores, hotels and high-rises.

Forbidden Broadway has always been cast with strong singers who excel at farcical comedy and this crop is no exception.  James Donegan is especially on target as an overacting Raul Esparza ("Being Intense") and an over enunciating Brian F. O'Bryne, all decked out for The Coast of Utopia.  Janet Dickinson seems completely inhabited by Christine Ebersole's Little Edie and Donna Murphy's Lotte Lenya.  Valerie Fagan plays roles like Ethel Merman and Mary Poppins with gusto and looks hypnotized as she deadpans Lea Michele's Wendla.  Jared Bradshaw is very funny as David Hyde Pierce struggling to execute the most basic dance steps and as an especially cruel Bob Martin, whose Man In Chair tells us all about how disenchanted he is with Beth Leavel's performance.  (This last bit, though well performed by Bradshaw and Dickinson, perhaps crosses the line into unnecessarily mean spirited.)

Regular attendees should be happy to know that "Beauty's Been Decreased," which was certainly very funny the first twelve times I saw it, has finally been retired, but there are still some old favorites from Spamalot, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and such.  The classic medley from Les Miserables has returned with a new number that comments on the frequent use of cell phones in Broadway houses.

As directed by Alessandrini and Phillip George, the evening is slam-bang swift, with the singers ably accompanied by Steve Saari on piano.  Alvin Colt's costumes get big laughs before a note is sung and you can go dizzy imagining how they're able to accomplish such quick and complete changes.

Young Frankenstein...  A Catered Affair...  In The Heights...  You're next.

Photos by Carol Rosegg:  Janet Dickinson and Jared Bradshaw;Valerie Fagan, Janet Dickinson and Jared Bradshaw; Janet Dickinson, Michael West, Jared Bradshaw and Valerie Fagan



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