Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation!

January 21, 2020 | By | Add a Comment

The first version of writer/director Gerard Alessandrini’s Forbidden Broadway was staged 38 years ago, and the hardy satirical revue has gone through various permutations over the decades. The latest version—Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation!—is now running at The York Theatre Company. As with past installments, this one lacerates the pretensions and outright follies of Broadway theatre. And, as usual, the parodic spirit somehow manages to be simultaneously scathing and celebratory.

To fully appreciate the show, you’ll probably want either to have seen several current and recent Broadway shows or at least to have been keeping abreast of what’s been going on lately in New York theatre circles through Internet sites and other channels. But even if your Broadway knowledge isn’t entirely up to date, you’ll likely enjoy the proceedings.

In the new edition, main-stem hits and would-be hits (mostly musicals, but some straight plays as well) are skewered, along with some general trends: “woke” musicals; the continuing popularity of jukebox musicals and the musical-ization of unlikely properties; the tendency to end a show with an extended dance sequence in lieu of a dramatically satisfying denouement. The cast of five—two men, two women, one youth performer—gets a workout, with a considerable amount of lively choreography (by Gerry McIntyre), plus lots of quick costume changes between sketches.

The show gets off to a somewhat shaky start with a bit about tourists in Times Square trying to decide which show to see. Eventually they get pulled into “Forbidden Hadestown,” and then things are off and running. The tourist characters are not further used as part of a narrative thread; whether they’re needed in the opening is questionable.

The sting that Alessandrini’s satire can leave is felt early on in the show. A sendup of Moulin Rouge—called “Moulin Rude”—describes that show as “Follies without a soul.” Soon after, in a sequence named “Evan Has-Been,” young Joshua Turchin takes on the explosive phenomenon that is Ben Platt (“I’m as precious as can be.”). The sole signature on the plaster cast on Turchin’s arm reads “Forbidden.” Among other things, Alessandrini seems to be a master at product placement.

Thus it goes—for 85 minutes. Each cast member gets some time in the spotlight. In addition to portraying Platt, young Turchin rather startlingly impersonates Santino Fontana in drag in Tootsie. The amusing Immanuel Houston imitates both Billy Porter and André De Shields, while Chris Collins-Pisano exuberantly spoofs Bob Fosse (from TV’s Fosse/Verdon), Danny Burstein (Moulin Rouge), and Steven Skybell (Off-Broadway’s Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof). Aline Mayagoitia has a turn as Karen Olivo (Moulin Rouge) and is especially funny as Bernadette Peters, who—excepting the late Carol Channing and Ethel Merman—is arguably the Broadway diva most frequently mimicked these days.

Jenny Lee Stern, however, makes the biggest splash in the revue. She seems just the kind of actor you want for a show like this. Her cartoonish yet pitch-perfect Gwen Verdon is smashing. Later, in a wicked sendup of the feature film Judy, she plays a disgruntled Judy Garland complaining about being played by Renée Zellweger—and thereby transforming “Zing, Went the Strings of My Heart” into “Zellweger Smells in My Part.” In the bargain, Stern gives us a spot-on snippet of Zellweger as Roxy Hart in the film version of Chicago. She also successfully embodies Mary Poppins, Mary Testa (in “Woke-lahoma”), and a subtly rendered Bette Midler. (It seems that it is, indeed, humanly possible to render the Divine Miss M in a subtle way.)

One of the best sketches in the show is a parody of a nonmusical: The Ferryman. (The sequence, however, does include a song: “How Are Things in Irish Drama?”). Alessandrini must have observed the longwinded play’s final stretch of violent incidents very carefully, as they are recreated here seemingly move by move. On the other hand, the humor in a take-off on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child failed to earn much audience response on the night I saw the show. Perhaps Alessandrini needs to consider reworking or even scrapping the sequence.

Dustin Cross’s costume designs and Conor Donnelly’s wig designs add much to the evening’s success. I especially appreciated the snazzy pantsuit for Stern’s Garland as well as the coiled copper tresses for Mayagoitia’s Bernadette. Fred Barton at the piano does more than just provide rousing accompaniment; his flamboyant playing seems at times to be part of the choreography itself.

So many satirical offerings these days are focused on the political scene—and for understandable reasons. One of the more refreshing things about Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation! is that its impersonators aren’t focused on the likes of Rudolph Giuliani and Bernie Sanders, but are instead giving us their best Jennifer Holliday or Lin-Manuel Miranda. What a tonic to enjoy laughter that is virtually anxiety free (unless, perchance, you’ve invested in one of the shows being eviscerated).

The York Theatre Company  –  January 19 – February 16

Category: Reviews

Mark Dundas Wood

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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