review: forbidden broadway alive and kicking

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Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking

Created and written by Gerard Alessandrini
Directed by Phillip George and Gerard Alessandrini
Musical Direction by David Caldwell

Featuring Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern, Marcus Stevens
47th Street Theatre, 304 West 47rd Street
September 6, 2012 — January 6, 2013
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 2, 2012

(L-R) Jenny Lee Stern, Marcus Stevens (kneeling), Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster. Image by Carol Rosegg.

Forbidden Broadway is a kind of  Broadway insider rite of passage — quality parodies of Broadway musicals we love or hate or just know really really well performed by a small cast with minimal production values. The out-of-towners might pass over this Off Broadway treasure (don’t make this mistake) for a precious theatre slot while Broadway Babies know to attend and get all the jokes. National tours over the years have brought this annual assemblage of parodies of recent or current Broadway runs to wider audiences. Cast recordings (my introduction) have further spread the reputation of the franchise.  This year I attend my first Forbidden Broadway in person in a year in which I’ve seen most of the shows being honored or skewered. What I learn: the quality of the performances and the sharpness of the writing create a show that works regardless of the level of intimacy of one’s knowledge of the original material.

In this heralded return of the almost annual parody parade born in 1982, Gerard Alessandrini and musical director David Caldwell along with this year’s stalwart cast composed of Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern, and Marcus Stevens offer their takes on shows including Porgy and Bess, Once, Into the Woods, Evita, Anything Goes, Newsies, Book of Mormon, and End of the Rainbow. Veterans of the series inform me that some bits in the current show have been adapted from prior productions, e.g. Annie and Mary Poppins. All the older elements retain their relevance due to ongoing runs or scheduled revivals.  As portrayed by the current cast of four, Bernadette pouts, Sondheim appears and reappears, Donna Murphy and Amy Adams sing of their odd-ly costumed characters in the Public’s Into the Woods, Sutton Foster faux taps, Newsies‘ newsboys rip off Gene Kelly’s newspaper dance in 1950’s Summer Stock, Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee belt out their Smash angst as “Let Me Be Sub Par”, and two dresses (Audra McDonald‘s red beauty from The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Elena Roger‘s white ball gown from Evita) parade the stage.

As will surprise no one who read my review of End of the Rainbow, the delectable Forbidden Broadway send-up and dressing-down of Bennett and company’s treatment of Judy Garland as person, as character, as performer gives me great enjoyment.  “Thank you, Tracie Bennett,” Jenny Lee Stern sings as Garland herself in the patter rhythm of the initial section of A Star is Born‘s “Born in a Trunk”, “for portraying me in your ‘special’ way. But if you knew of all the flaws/ you’d know what gives me pause / and why you get guffaws / most ev’ry night.” And my favorite call out (to the tune and rhythms of “The Trolley Song”) finishes out this section: “Though you’re bland / people stand / like you’re grand by design / but the last laugh is mine.”

The writing is witty, the layers of satire are many, the charms abound.  This is theatre on a shoe string, animated by wit and wonder, in costumes both suggested (wait for the ingenious use of gray bath towels) and artfully nuanced, with good voices and great lyrics in smart send ups to thrill insiders and entertain those who haven’t seen the shows featured. These pieces stand on their own.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 7, 2012)

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