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A CurtainUp Book Review
Two Picture Books for Broadway Babies
Forbidden Broadway & The Playbill Broadway Yearbook
By Elyse Sommer
The problem with Forbidden Broadway: Behind the Mylar Curtain is that it makes you want to rush out and see the latest version of the amazingly successful franchise launched by Gerard Alessandrini in 1982 is this: The mylar curtain that was one of the show's signature scenery elements went down on what Alessandrini said was its last edition. And so this lavishly illustrated book (the more than 100 pictures and lots of excerpts from its most popular parody song) will be most enjoyable for those who've seen enough episodes for whom it will be an armchair memory trip.
Of course, Frank Sinatra retired numerous times and when he was a good deal older than Gerard Alessandrini who has already hinted at future editions when the time is ripe. Therefore this memoir of the show's evolution may well be a step between retirement and a comeback.
The book has an obvious trip-down-memory-lane appeal. There are stories of celebrities (and spoof subjects) galore. It was actually the show biz folks who came to see themselves parodied who initially comprised the show's core audience. It's also fun to see how many actors honed their comic and quick-change skills in front of that mylar curtain. Did you know, for example, that Jason Alexander, the Seinfeld sitcom's George, did his bit as part of a FB foursome?
Forbidden Broadway, the book, is also an enlightenng study of a small enterprise's growth in a tough business. And for anyone interested in parody writing, whether just for fun or professionally, Alessandri's comments are invaluable, with the many sample excerpts serving as textbook examples of what works and what doesn't.
Thanks to co-author, the theater journalist Michael Portantiere, the information is well organized. The parts of the text that are the most readable and fun are the regularly interspersed personal essays by the many people who've been involved with the show. They share the umbrealla title of e "Forbidden Memories."
Don't expect anything but accolades. The FB parodies may have been theatrical tough love but this is a 100% love fest. The wealth of pictures include black and white photos but glossy 4-color images predominate. And don't be surprised to see Mr. Alessandrini in a lot of those pictures. After all, actors love the limelight and even though being the chief parody writer and impresario forced Alessandrini to abandon the stage, Alessandrini was very much on stage at the beginning. Once an actor always an actor.
At $24.95 this handsomely illustrated book from Applause-Hal Leonard is a good value, a fine addition to your coffee table and hefty enough to use as a doorstop.
Also from Applause-Hal Leonard is an even fatter doorstopper (469 pages), the annual Playbill Broadway Yearbook edited by Robert Robert Viagas. This is one giant playbill covering an entire season. If you saw everything on offer during a season and saved all your playbills, they would provide you with many of the statistics-- but without quite as many black and white and full-color pictures and some of the fun trivia about the various shows. There's also a big section featuring information about awards and the behind the scenes folks like producers and press agents. Be forewarned, these annual volumes will bring out your collector's instinct so that buying one Yearbook will lead to another. Three or four will take up quite a few inches of your tallest book shelf- - but they'll look very impressive together. Naturally, whether you should buy this or any other reference book is determined by how many times you take it off the shelf and really delve into it in the course of a year.
Both books are available and discounted via our Amazon book store affiliation-- to which a click on the images in the gray strip will take you.