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A CurtainUp Review
Forbidden Broadway 20001: a spoof odyssey
By Elyse Sommer
With theaters named for corporate sonsors rather than legendary theatrical personalities, and new plays by American playwrights as scarce as squirrels in Times Square, it's only natural for Forbidden Broadway to follow the trend. Thus, instead of a skit about some of the shows so far seen at the Roundabout's new American Airlines Theater, we get a spoof about the theater ushers preparing the passengers (oops, I mean the audience) for takeoff (oops again, I mean the play about to begin). In the same vein what often looks like a British takeover of Broadway is summed up early on in the proceedings by that veteran Forbidden Broadway spoofer, Christine Pedi. As a very royal Judi Dench she sings "Why Can't Americans be like Brits?" For all the British successes, there's Danny Gurwin's singspiel "Miss Saigon Farewell" -- complete with a tiny helicopter.
Still on the business of show business, there's the subject of downsizing. On Broadway that can mean anything from a reduced cast to nipping off enough running time to save overtime labor costs. To illustrate, Felicia Finley blithely sings on as the rest of the cast slily shrinks her props, turning Beauty and the Beast into Beauty with the Least.
The critics, whose role in the rise and fall of a show or performer's success is much debated, also come in for some ribbing, especially Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of The New York Times. Christine Pedi, a.k.a. Marin Mazzie laments "I Hate Ben" because he " drubbed" her in Ragtime, and even though he loved her in Kiss Me Kate lost his heart to Heather Headley in Aida. (Had Headley not won the Tony, it would have gone to Mazzie). Pedi is an amazing comedienne with a face that seems to make her a twin of everyone she impersonates.
Since Pedi and her latest colleagues are all fine singers as well as gifted mimics, the emphasis this year, as in years past, is on musicals plus a sprinkling of favorite musical icons like Liza Minnelliand Barbra Streisand . Not surprisingly one of the biggest hits to open since the last edition, The Music Man gets the full cast treatment -- Tony Nation doing a terrific rat-tat-tat take of Craig Bierko's" Trouble", Felicia Finley and Danny Gurwin having fun with Marian the Librarian and her kid brother Winthrop, and the whole cast adopting the musical's grand finale for their own " 76 Hit Shows" windup.
The evening's best and most original sequence is the one built around Contact. It's again underpinned by business concerns. The setting is Judge Judy's (Pedi) courtroom. Michael John LaChiusa (Danny Gurwin), composer-lyricist of live and fully orchestrated musicals with brief stage lives charges Susan Stroman (Felicia Finley) director and choreographer of Contact, the long-running "dansical" sans orchestra or singing with stealing the Tony he deserved. Finley, dressed in the yellow dress worn by Contact star Deborah Yates and Stroman's own trademark baseball cap, of course, speaks only through a head set. A touch of The Full Monty is thrown in for good measure.
Aida comes in for its share of lampoonery. Some other recent shows -- The Seussical, Rocky Horror Show, Dirty Blonde and Jane Eyre -- are polished off rather superficially.
Those who have seen the last two Forbidden Broadway editions will recognize much of the material, though the show's creator, Gerard Alessandrini, as usual, manages to give these reprises a fresh twist. Felicia Finley as Cheryll Ladd, the latest star of Annie Get Your Gun, sends the laugh meter zooming when she sings that she's got "no business in show business" but concludes that there's " no talent like tube talent." David Hasseldorf's appearance during the concluding months of Jekyll and Hyde gives Tom Nation a chance to do as a beach bum version of that show's much satirized hair tossing scene. As with any satirical revue like this, there are inevitably a few routines that don't gain altitude (e.g. Danny Gurwin's take on composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim); also a few that seem out of place (e.g. Felicia Finley's Sarah Brightman number -- which nevertheless got a big hand at the performance I attended).
Alvin Colt's costumes are reliably bright and amusing. The cast's energetic navigation of the small stage which must also accommodate musical director Catherine Stornetta and her piano (and what a pro she is!) is nothing short of amazing.
Despite the sad truth lurking in the Dr. Seuss (Danny Gurwin) rhyme "Broadway's under sedation from its Disney vacation", the upbeat ""76 Trombones" finale attests to the fact that Mr. Alessandrini'is hardly over. Like Les Miz which was spoofed and will be spoofed again for its endurance, Forbidden Broadway will no doubt go on and on and on.
Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back
Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act!
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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