Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 15, 2008
Grand news for Forbidden Broadway fans: though creator Gerard Alessandrini tells us that the current edition of his very long-running revue—which skewers Broadway musicals old and new for our delectation—is the last, it's also the best in many a year. Much of the material is brand new or revised; many of the parodies are blissfully and perfectly on target; and the evening ends with a loving, upbeat, hopeful finale that may just put a tear or two in the corner of your eyes.
Best of all, there's plenty of star power on hand (which has been sadly lacking from recent incarnations of the show). Michael West is back, delivering his on-the-nose Harvey Fierstein (in Hairspray) impression; he's also pretty funny pretending to be In the Heights' Lin-Manuel Miranda (although that sketch, which suggests that this year's Latino-flavored Tony winner is a retread of West Side Story, is one of the few in Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab that misses the mark).
New to the franchise is Christine Bianco, who scores as a scarily deadpan Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago, a relentlessly perky Kristin Chenoweth, and a hilariously pouty Bernadette Peters (as Dot, from Sunday in the Park with George, in the finale sketch about Stephen Sondheim). The Chenoweth skit, which deals with the dilemma of a promising Broadway star selling out by becoming a TV star, is set to Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay" (from Candide), and lets Bianco show off a gorgeous coloratura that rivals Chenoweth's own.
Jared Bradshaw holds his own, portraying Daniel Radcliffe (in a song called "Let Me Enter Naked") and sending up South Pacific's Paulo Szot in one of the show's most charming segments. His range—convincingly doing an adenoidal take on Jule Styne and a booming baritone rendition of a re-lyriced "Some Enchanting Evening"—is mighty impressive.
But the standout in this exciting cast is Gina Kreiezmar, whose outsized voice and personality plus gift for mimicry serve her in a number of terrific turns. In Act I, she plays Patti LuPone, inevitably bringing down the curtain singing "Everything's Coming Out Patti!" And in Act II, she outdoes even that outlandish show-stopper with a hilarious "Liza One Note," channeling everything about Ms. Minnelli that makes us love her and everything about her that makes us despair.
Kreiezmar also performs the Mary Poppins parody, a song set to "Feed the Birds" that states its case frankly:
All around New York City
In Jersey and Glen Cove
The buyers are unaware
They know Mary Poppins
And think they'll leave smiling
Instead they just sit there and stare
That was the line that made me laugh longest at Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab; it reminds us that, fine as this year's cast is, the REAL star of the show is creator Alessandrini, who fashions all of these remarkable parodies with authentic wit and affection. Here's another brief sample, from the South Pacific sketch:
Who can explain why
Oscar was so wise
Fools imitate him
While Cry-Baby dies
Other current attractions that come up for Alessandrini's magical barbs include August: Osage County, The Little Mermaid, Xanadu, A Tale of Two Cities, [title of show], and Young Frankenstein; Spring Awakening, Jersey Boys, and The Lion King are among the few old favorites recycled in this year's show (all sport some new lyrics here and there). David Caldwell provides the expert accompaniment on piano. Sadly missing this year is Alvin Colt, who died last spring at 92; his successor as costume designer, David Moyer, has gigantic shoes to fill, and most of this year's new creations simply don't possess the splendid panache of Colt's work.
I saw Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab on one of the days that the stock market tanked, and it made me feel very happy indeed; it really is a delightful night out for theatre fans. And even though the knowledge that this is the last edition adds a tinge of melancholy, it's nice to know that Alessandrini is ending the series with a bang. It's tempting to contemplate what he might make of 9 to 5 or the new West Side Story, but it's even more tantalizing to imagine what he will come up with when he—as Dot urges George to do in that famous Sondheim show—moves on.