FORBIDDEN BETTER THAN BROADWAY
Musical theater fans, rejoice! Forbidden Broadway is back – Alive & Kicking! – with a raucous new romp through the current theatrical season. This off-Broadway institution makes a feisty return to the 47th Street Theater, where its caustic parodies will have you cracking up at the mainstream hits – and flops – only a few blocks away.
Reemerging from the mist like the mythical Brigadoon, this new edition of writer/creator Gerard Alessandrini’s Forbidden Broadway takes a few minutes to shape up. On a tight stage space with a lone piano for accompaniment, we are definitely off Broadway. But that homespun aesthetic is all part of the show’s appeal; the audience feels like part of an intimate gathering of friends who have switched up the lyrics to their favorite showtunes for fun. “Livin’ Evita Loca” kicks off a whirlwind of witty song parodies that often supersede the overpriced spectacles currently running on the Great White Way. Directors Phillip George and Gerard Alessandrini’s pacing is thrillingly relentless, and the four person cast’s kaleidoscopic range of impersonations astounds.
Natalie Charlé Ellis’ soprano lifts her to astounding heights: in a pointed parody of Wicked, Elphaba defies gravity atop a stool with a portable fan offering a bit of lift to her long robes; Ellis later nails Audra McDonald’s vocal inflections in a hilariously whitewashed rendition of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – emphasis on “The Gershwins” by arty and self-absorbed director Diane Paulus, played by Jenny Lee Stern.
One of the evening’s highlights is Stern’s fierce diva turn as Patti LuPone, intimately coupled with the soft-spoken, squinting Mandy Patinkin, played by Marcus Stevens. Forbidden Broadway also offers up a perceptive parody of the “so unpretentious that now we’re pretentious” new musical Once, featuring Scott Richard Foster as the soulful, guitar-wielding Steve Kazee and the wide-eyed Stern as his charming Czechoslovakian companion. Alessandrini’s clever lyrics cut to the core of each show with uproarious directness.
Special recognition is due to accompanist David Caldwell, who flows through the evening’s entertainment with a delightfully relaxed demeanor; his fingers glide across the keys effortlessly, filling out the sound with flourish. Philip Heckman’s costume designs also offer lots of laughs, particularly Donna Murphy’s tree bark Witch costume from the Public’s recent production of Into the Woods, and Newsies shoes with pre-attached newspapers for a stunt-filled dance break.
Forbidden Broadway is undoubtedly most fun for insiders who see all the latest shows and keep close track of theater news, but a healthy mix of long-running hits, revivals, and even an ode to the musical television show Smash (a showdown between Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty entitled “Let Me Be Subpar”) make Forbidden Broadway accessible and entertaining for a wide audience. The latest edition offers a spectacularly scathing commentary on this theatrical season, equal parts affection and concern for the state of the art.
Here’s hoping Alessandrini’s show keeps kicking for years to come. At this point, such off-Broadway gems are keeping theater alive.
photos by Carol Rosegg
Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking!
47th Street Theatre in New York City
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013
for tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.forbiddenbroadway.com/ticket.html