NEW YORK | The theater spoof revue “Forbidden Broadway” wasn’t kidding when it titled its latest edition “Comes Out Swinging.” Its jabs leave few Broadway stars unbloodied and even a shiny Tony Award doesn’t get you immunity.
The always-glorious show, which this year feels a little more deliciously harsher, opened Sunday at the Davenport Theatre on 45th Street, offering a lovely spicy bonbon after the ho-hum Broadway season. It is a must-see for anyone who loves to hate the pretensions of the Great White Way.
Creator and writer Gerard Alessandrini merrily tweaks the Broadway shows that have opened since “Forbidden Broadway” took a hiatus last spring. That means a talented cast of four sing the shows’ famous numbers, with lyrics scrambled to satirize. Alessandrini’s word play deserves its own standing ovation.
So a cast member playing director Matthew Warchus sings “I love exploiting children/I love exploiting shows/I whip their little hineys and line them up in rows” to the tune of “Revolting Children” from his “Matilda the Musical.” And “Idina Menzel” sings “Let It Go” from “Frozen” but actually sings “Let it blow/Let it blow/Blow your chords out with a roar.”
This season’s other targets include Jason Robert Brown, Woody Allen, Susan Stroman, Andy Karl, Sylvester Stallone, Fran Drescher, Patina Miller and Liza Minnelli. The guys behind “Aladdin,” ”Jersey Boys,” ”Les Miserables,” ”The Book of Mormon” and “Once” also get goofed on.
Carrie Underwood, who was widely criticized for the live TV version of “The Sound of Music,” doesn’t escape here. “A star with a voice/But with no sex appeal” she confesses about herself to Audra MacDonald in “Climb Every Mountain.” And Mandy Patinkin has his own manic number in which he sings, “Super-frantic-hyperactive-self-indulgent Mandy/When I get hysterical/The critics say I’m dandy.”
Co-directed by Alessandrini and Phillip George, the show stars Scott Richard Foster, Carter Calvert, Marcus Stevens and Mia Gentile. What they manage to pack into a 1-hour-45 minute show is stunning. Stevens’ Patinkin and Brown are caricatures of sheer genius, Gentile’s Menzel is breath-taking (literally), Calvert’s Minnelli is hysterical and Foster’s Alan Cumming is spot-on.
Interestingly, two of Broadway biggest Tony nominee-getters this year — “After Midnight” and “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — scarcely get mentioned, reflecting the fact that no single song from those shows has captured the imagination. Similarly, the musical “Rocky,” ripe for skewering, has to reply on a riff from “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie. It always helps if you can see as many musicals as you can before going to “Forbidden Broadway” or risk not getting the joke. But this year has been thin on hits.
Alessandrini may be after laughs — and gets them — but his shows are more than mere joke-fests. Underneath the humor is a sadness that new, tricky musicals are eclipsed by dusty revivals and that the increasing corporatization of Broadway means all the shows start sounding alike.
The return this season of “Cabaret” and “Les Miserables” has sparked some of Alessandrini’s funniest moments, with Gentile, playing Michelle Williams, singing the title song of “Cabaret,” ”What good is sitting/Through something that’s new?/New shows don’t always pay/So they do ‘Cabaret’ ol’ chum/Let’s bring back ‘Cabaret.'”
And “Les Miz” gets no less than four songs, including the lines “The public doesn’t mind the fact/This crusty show has been shellacked.” The French revolutionary musical also yields a joke on Broadway’s reliance on projections — complete with the cast using an overhead projection — as well as Eponine singing “On My Phone” (instead of “On My Own”) and a number in which the whole cast is dressed as stage turntables, lamenting this latest version’s lack of one.
So let the punches keep flying. “Forbidden Broadway,” unlike a lot of Broadway this season, is both memorable and smart. It’s simply dandy.