It's Not Easy to Parody Broadway
FORBIDDEN BROADWAY 1993 Created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini. At Theatre East.
FOR more than a decade, "Forbidden Broadway" has been as much of an institution as Broadway itself. And like its inspiration, it has lost much of its energy. It seems that 10 short years ago there still was a Broadway filled with larger-than-life personalities: performers like Carol Channing and Yul Brynner were caricatures before Gerald Alessandrini ever got his hands on them. That a Carol Channing sendup still shows up in the 1993 edition, years after her last Broadway appearance, is an indication that
the show's creative energy is lagging.
It's hard to parody something that has become a self-parody, and that's what Broadway has become when it promotes Marla Maples as a major star in "The Will Rogers Follies" or presents Streisand sibling Roslyn Kind singing "People" in "Three From Brooklyn" (which lasted a scant few weeks). Even Cameron Mackintosh, who has inspired some of the best spoofs in "Forbidden Broadway" with his mega-productions of "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon," and "Phantom," isn't operating up to par: His lame musical revue "F ive Guys Named Moe," in which audience members are led in a conga line to the bar, is the impetus here for the uninspired "Push da Drinky-Drink." Tackiness just doesn't lend itself to satire as readily as pomposity does.
Things are so bad on the Great White Way that Mr. Alessandrini has to look elsewhere for material. One of the sharper numbers, "Be Depressed," wittily acknowledges that the best musicals are being done as Disney animated features. One spoof devotes itself to the recent Radio City Music Hall appearance by Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine, and another makes fun of Barbra Streisand, who hasn't been on a Broadway stage in decades.
This edition will date rather quickly, since much of the material is devoted to musicals like "Anna Karenina" (featuring one of the cleverest numbers, "On the Ashkhabad, Tbilisi, and Kiev Express") and "My Favorite Year," which will soon be forgotten. Alessandrini is also forced to spoof shows that haven't arrived yet ("Goodbye Girl," "Tommy") and shows that are still in the planning stage ("Sunset Boulevard").
But when he has the inspiration, Alessandrini is still able to provoke, whether he is skewering the pomposities of individual performers like Mandy Patinkin and Michael Crawford, or delving into areas like the macho marketing of the gay-themed "Falsettos" or the blandness of the leads in "Crazy For You." The new "Guys and Dolls" spoof, "I Know I've Seen This Show Before," amusingly points out the absurdity of Broadway's biggest hit being a musical that has been performed in every high school in the count ry. Some of the best older numbers have also been retained, including the classic "Les Miz" sketch in which the cast members hurl themselves around the stage. Brad Oscar, probably the most protean member of the cast, performs that sketch's "God It's High," which never fails to be uproariously funny.
The current cast, comprised of Susanne Blakeslee, Dorothy Kiara, Craig Wells, and Mr. Oscar, is more than up to the demands of the material, even if the performers don't quite match the manic comic qualities of some of their predecessors.
Ms. Blakeslee is particularly good at capturing the outlandish personas of such performers as Faith Prince and Shirley MacLaine. Mr. Oscar has a ball with Mandy Patinkin in "Somewhat Over Indulgent," and even gets to reprise the great "Cats" spoof from the first edition. The performers aren't the problem; as long as there is a Broadway, there should be a "Forbidden Broadway." But the strain of keeping the revue relevant is starting to show.