‘The neon on Broadway is vibrant and bright. The spectacle is stunning to see. It takes corporations to do it right and Broadway belongs to me,’ are lyrics sung to the tune of Kander and Ebb’s “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from their musical Cabaret. The sensational company of Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! are dressed in black suits with corporate logos as armbands and carrying briefcases with corporate logos to perform this ominously very funny final parody number.
Created and written by co-director Gerard Alessandrini, this acclaimed revue was first performed in 1982 and has run periodically in New York City at various venues ever since. Always known for it’s sharp and affectionate mockery of Broadway musicals and stars with comically accurate impersonations and representations, this edition feels even more mordant than the past ones. Most of the present sketches fiercely critique Broadway for it’s crass commercialism and unoriginality.
An overhead slide projector figures prominently in the detailed Les Miserables takeoff demonstrating the new revival’s use of lower cost projections instead of past incarnation’s integral turntable. “Disney Cheese” with characters from Aladdin and a special appearance by Mary Poppins assails the corporation for being ‘the grand wizards of formulaic.’ “Broadway Jukebox” derides that pervasive trend with characters from Jersey Boys, Mama Mia!, Motown and Carole King holding forth. ‘Stealing songs from 1963 to create what tourists wanna see…’
Personalities viciously lampooned include “musical masturbator” composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown. Sylvester Stallone coaching Rocky: The Musical’s star Andy Karl to be unintelligible. Kinky Boots creators Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein cynically describing how to have a hit show, “A musical is sold by just how well it matches Broadway’s cookie cutter mold.” Woody Allen and Susan Stroman get the business for Bullets Over Broadway. Patina Miller is shown doing biceps curls and using a Thighmaster while performing in Pippin.
Those are just a few of the spot on depictions. Two others are quite cruel on an obvious level but end up celebrating their enduring star quality and tenacity and actually become moving tributes. Like the trooper she is, Liza Minnelli plows on with “So What?” now as the old landlady in Cabaret instead of her signature role of Sally Bowles. “Dreidel! Dreidel!” wails Mandy Patinkin in a characteristic over-the-top rendition of the Chanukah song. A subtext of the show is a yearning for the past when Broadway had unique talents and these inarguably are.
Scott Richard Foster, Mia Gentile, Carter Calvert, and Marcus Stevens are the heroic cast who portray the numerous personalities with tremendous accuracy and precision. They all rapidly switch in and out of multiple characters and onto the next one with such awesome skill and each have many moments to shine individually.
The visual shorthand that instantly captures the essence of these subjects is due to the ingenious technical team. Costume designers Dustin Cross and Philip Heckman and wig designer Bobbie Cliffton Zlotnik perfectly transform the performers into looking exactly who they’re supposed to, often with astonishing speed. Megan K. Halpern’s small scale set inventively conjures up the lavish Broadway counterparts it mocks with low-tech props adding witty touches. Mark T. Simpson’s lighting design and Matt Kraus’ sound design ably assist in maintaining the seamless transitions between sketches. Successful responsibility for that is also shared with production stage manager Brian Westmoreland who has to oversee the multitude of elements in this live variety show.
This rapid-fire entertainment is overseen by musical director and pianist David Caldwell who triumphantly keeps the evening all in tune.
Long time co-director Phillip George and Mr. Alessandrini swiftly and meticulously manage these many pieces into another outstanding historical chapter of this recurring theatrical chronicle. That its tone seems bleaker this time has to do with the uninspired state of present Broadway that it scabrously portrays. At one point, title cards of many of the shows depicted here are thrown into a trashcan.
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! (open run)
Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call, 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission