REVIEW: “Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation”
When the last edition of “Forbidden Broadway”, a perennial Broadway parody revue founded by writer/director Gerard Alessandrini in 1982, closed in 2014, it felt like the end of an era.
One more scrappy institution hailing from a pre-corporate era when Broadway was more mom and pop and less, well, billion dollar business, was gone. Mr. Alessandrini turned his skewering focus to the juggernaut of “Hamilton”, creating “Spamilton” in 2016, which became a juggernaut on its own (as far as low-budget cabaret shows go!).
Five years after its last performance, though, “Forbidden Broadway” is now back at the Triad Theater on West 72nd Street for a limited run through November 30th. Branded as “Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation”, devoted fans of the franchise need not worry. It’s still the same old schtick, albeit with a creeping sense of bitterness underneath—and that’s both a blessing and a curse.
For those unfamiliar, “Forbidden Broadway” is like the “Saturday Night Live” of theater. Each edition, from 1982 to the present, makes fun of Broadway shows, actors, and personalities through a series of sketches tailored to the current season—mostly consisting of showtunes re-rewritten with satirical lyrics laced with specific references and insider jokes.
This is niche country (Ted Chapin is a punchline), but, fortunately, fans of theatre, and musical theatre in particular, form a mighty niche.
In this mostly-funny new sendup of the Broadway community starring Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Aline Mayahoitia, Jenny Lee Stern, and Joshua Turchin (aided by on-point wigs by Conor Donnelly), with Fred Barton on piano, a family of tourists emerge from the audience in search of the TKTS booth, and debate what to see (“God, I Wanna See It”).
The family is then used as a foil to set up the main message of this edition: Broadway’s gotten blander, safer, more predictable, and more expensive than ever before—Mr. Alessandrini’s most pointed, and negative, critique to date.
The rest of the show riffs on these themes, delivering up-to-date commentary on what’s currently playing, including parodies of “Hadestown”, “Moulin Rouge!”, “Frozen”, “Ain’t Too Proud”, and “Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish”, among others. No one is spared.
Lest you think it’s all just about musicals, one of the best and funniest sketches uses the tune of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from “Finian’s Rainbow” to gleefully rib “The Ferryman” and other Irish dramas with “How Are Things in Irish Drama?”. Later, in a less successful sketch, “Magic To Do” from “Pippin” becomes “Magic For Two”, about the expense of seeing “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, a two-part play.
A medley of songs from “Damn Yankees” is used to satirize the newly-reborn legacies of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon (“Whatever Fosse Wants,” “Two Lost Stars”), and feels like one of the most classic sketches in the show. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the film “Mary Poppins Returns” becomes the hilarious backdrop for an award-show in memoriam style presentation of “The Place Where The Lost Shows Go”—an ode to flops as loving as the walls at Joe Allen.
And Ms. Stern, a standout across the evening, does one hell of a Judy Garland impression as she tears apart Renée Zellweger’s turn in the current biopic “Judy” with the tune of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” becoming “Zellweger Smells in My Part!”
Because divas are a staple of the medium, Mr. Alessandrini also throws in one number unconnected to the current season: “There’s Gotta Be Something for Us to Do”, a riff on “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from “Sweet Charity”, featuring Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, and Jennifer Holliday lamenting the lack of roles for serious leading ladies of yore.
An unspoken rule of “Forbidden Broadway” has always been that the show punches up, mocking the hits, so it is surprising to see Mr. Alessandrini turning his pen on shows like “Tootsie”, “The Prom”, and “Beetlejuice”, which, while enjoying their own fanbases, have struggled at the box office.
Likewise, a number featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Billy Porter that pokes fun at the increasing awareness and incorporation of gender fluidity on Broadway—and the overall, although glacial, move toward greater inclusivity in commercial theatre—is not only offensive, it’s also just not funny.
A similarly-themed take on the current revival of “Oklahoma!” that rebrands it as “Woke-lahoma!” betrays a certain crustiness on the part of the show’s creator. Broadway has changed, and so has the culture writ-large, which means comedy has changed, too. Mr. Alessandrini seems to resent this.
Satire only works when it is sharp and grounded in truth. A handful of times, throughout, the object of Mr. Alessandrini’s ire is unclear, as in “Evan Has-Been” about “Dear Evan Hansen”. I could not make out the point of his joke, which seems to be an attack on the current teenage star of the show.
Why? I don’t know. Making fun of Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone seems like fair game (and made for great material in the past). Lampooning a 17-year-old making his Broadway debut is a low-blow that also just isn’t funny.
Much like SNL, “Forbidden Broadway” has had good seasons and not-so-good seasons. While the next edition might benefit from a writer’s room approach, with some younger, dare I say “woke”, voices involved—faults and all, the show remains as funny, and scrappy, as ever, and is the perfect complement to the diet of any serious theatre fan.
Bottom Line: After a five year hiatus, the Broadway parody revue “Forbidden Broadway” is back with a new edition that makes fun of Broadway shows, actors, and personalities through sketches that satirize the form. Mostly funny, this iteration is undercut by a tinge of bitterness and resentment toward shifting cultural mores and trends on Broadway. But, in the end, it’s still the same scrappy, low-budget comedy revue that’s been playing, off and on, since 1982.
“Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation”
The Triad Theater
158 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Running Time: 80 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: October 16, 2019
Final Performance: November 30, 2019