The sad news is that Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway is closing-for good, at least in New York City-on January 15th after 27 years of affectionate spoofs. There have been 18 different versions, adding up to 9,000 performances, in various cabarets and theaters. Recent editions have been somewhat disappointing due to rehashed routines and a bitter, jaded tone. But this farewell edition is one of the strongest in years, thanks to sharp new material and a strong five-person cast.
Directed by Alessandrini and Phillip George, with musical direction by pianist David Caldwell, the fast-moving show gleefully and pointedly hits its targets. The first act opens with a Broadwayholics meeting, which establishes the ongoing rehab theme. "All That Chat" (to the tune of "All That Jazz") laments the fact that theater chat rooms are more fun than many musicals. In the Heights gets skewered, with Michael West doing his best Lin-Manuel Miranda rap. "Be-Littled Mermaid" has the pint-sized Christina Blanco hopping from piano to microphone in her mermaid outfit (one of the wittiest costumes by Alvin Colt, who died this year at 92). "A Tale of Two Cities" has West as James Barbour singing "Tis a far, far lesser show than any show I've done before." And Gina Kreiezmar mocks "positively putrid" Mary Poppins in the clever "Feed the Burbs," which notes the trend toward wholesome, bland shows aimed at suburbanites.
Other Act I highlights include a South Pacific parody/tribute, an "August: Osage Rehab" mother-daughter boxing match, Jared Bradshaw as Daniel Radcliffe in Equus stripping à la Gypsy Rose Lee to "Let Me Enter Naked," and Kreiezmar belting-and hogging the limelight-as Patti LuPone in Gypsy. The only misfire is a tepid Title of Show skit.
Kreiezmar is even better in Act II as Liza Minnelli, getting the diva's trademark gestures, voice, and facial expressions just right. (Her impersonation is as funny as Mario Cantone's, and he's had years of practice.) Kreiezmar's take on Idina Menzel in Wicked could use a little work, however. Bianco is at her most impressive as Kristin Chenoweth, hitting operatic high notes in "Glitter and Be Glib." The whole cast shines in the antic Spring Awakening number, in which Bradshaw unzips his fly to retrieve his microphone. When Alessandrini wraps things up with a recap of Stephen Sondheim revivals, the company harmonizes beautifully.
Like many of us, Alessandrini wishes there were more smart Sondheim musicals on Broadway and fewer Disney kiddie shows. In fact, he has said that he is ending Forbidden Broadway in part because the safe productions backed by corporations aren't fun to parody. Maybe he will find inspiration in future seasons and revive his long-running Off Broadway institution. In the meantime, he's going out on a high note.