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A CurtainUp Review
Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening

And that's the evolution of the musical today,
da da da da
You get a fresh idee-ah
They still want Mamma Mi-ah!
—Janet Dickinson channelling Christine Ebersole's Tony award winning Little Edie from Grey Gardens which had the theatrical legs to move from Off-Broadway to Broadway — but without quite enough muscle to last season after season like less cerebral musicals.
Rude Awakening
Jared Bradshaw and Janet Dickinson parodying, you guessed it —David Hyde Pierce and Christine Ebersole in the latest Forbidden Broadway installment.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The big little musical is back —and it's funnier than ever. There have been some past seasons when the pickings for new shows to parody were so lean that Mr. Forbidden Broadway, a.k.a Gerard Allessandrini, had to freshen up proven routines and focus on divas of by-gone eras. But this has been a banner year for Alessandrini, a virtual banquet of parody-worthy musicals, plus one killer drama. So there's more really new material than ever.

While the FB appeal may seem limited to people who see everything the chief targets are always broad enough so that it won't be a problem to recognize the stars or starring vehicle get in the laugh aloud spirit that has prevailed at these musical parodies for twenty-five years and made it a favorite with tourists as well as natives. This is truer than ever this time since shows were seen by enough people and surrounded by plenty of buzz. Well, yes, there are some exceptions such as a lengthy spin on Beth Leavel who created the titular role in The Drowsy Chaperone.

If there's an underlying serious theme, it can be found in the digs at the Disneyfication and dumbing down of Broadway. But not to worry, the emphasis is, as always, on fun. Musical spoofs prevail, the one exception being that above mentioned killer drama. Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia surprise dramatic hit of the season simply wan't something any parody worth its credentials for being au courant could ignore. It gets a brief but very funny nod from James Donegan as Brian O'Byrne's Alexander Herzen and, in keeping with FB's penchant for merging characters from different and often unrelated shows into one skit, Valerie Fagan as a decidedly non-highbrow Laura Osnes from Grease comes on stage to "rescue" Donegan's O'Byrne from "his turgid drama."

The past season's most original musicals, Grey Gardens and Spring Awakening, are the source for the most inspired sketches. Since this edition's Rude Awakening title obviously takes its cue from Spring Awakening, it's served up several times: To begin with Jared Bradshaw and Janet Dickinson enter from the aisle as audience members who, like real SA audience members, bought on-stage seats. Their seats turn out to be on opposite sides of the stage and the scene they witness has Valerie Fagan as the tragically innocent, and here hilarious, Wendla comes on only to have her woeful and wailing "Mamma" number uncremoniously interrupted by Cole Porter's "De-Lovely" (lyrically rejiggered as It's depressing," it's demented, it's disgusting!" ). A longer and even sharper number puts the entire cast on stage recreating the propulsive choreographic moves, and the combination of old-fashioned repression and new-fangled microphones (one actually pulled out of one of the horny boys' crotches.

Like past casts, the current quartet is beyond terrific. Janet Dickinson brilliantly channels Christine Ebersole's Little Edie from Grey Gardens. Alessandrini's witty variations on show lyrics are ideally illustrated in Dickinson's look and sound-alike rendition of the "Revolutionary Fashion" number. A take on another arty musical, Company, takes aim at John Doyle's approach to Stephen Sondheim's musicals, with a rioutous Raoul Esparza by James Donegan, joined by chorus of tone deaf instrumentalists.

While other recent tuners like Mary Poppins, Jersey Boys, Curtains, Grease, Xanadu and Legally Blonde get their comeuppance, Rude Awakening has not abandoned its penchant for the seemingly forever shows like Phantom and Les Miserables or never to be forgotten divas like Ethel Merman. Thus James Donegan's whisper-y Phantom is unceremoniously coached from the aisle by big-voiced Valerie Fagan giving some Mama Rose advice (per Gypsy) on voice projection.

I could go on, but Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening has to be seen and heard to appreciate what's accomplished on a tiny stage, with just four performers, a minimal set (the same glittery mylar curtain and grand piano that has always served as FB's set) and, of course, Alvin Colt's nonstop array of "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" costumes. If Gerard Alessandrini ever runs out of ideas for new FB editions, I suggest he put on a retrospective fashion show of Colt's creations.

Links to Other FB editions CurtainUp has reviewed:
Forbidden Broadway: SVU
Forbidden Broadway: 20th Anniversary Edition
Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back
Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act!
Forbidden Broadway: spoof odyssey
Created and written by Gerard Alessandrini
Directed by Mr. Alessandrini and Phillip George
Cast: Jared Bradshaw, Janet Dickinson, James Donegan, Valerie Fagan, and Steve Saari at the piano
Costumes: Alvin Colt
Sets: Megan K. Halpern
Lighting : Marc Janowitz
Musical director: David Caldwell
47th Street Theater, 304 West 47th Street, (212) 239-6200
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, with a 5-minute intermission.
Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:15rpm; Sundays at 7:30 pm; Wednesdays at 2:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 3:30 pm. Tickets: $65 Saturday, Sunday and Monday evenings; $60 all other times.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 1st press performance

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