Entertainment

Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking!

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Thursday Sep 13, 2012
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Marcus Stevens, Jenny Lee Stern, and Scott Richard Foster
Marcus Stevens, Jenny Lee Stern, and Scott Richard Foster   

What happened?

For years, show queens have greeted "Forbidden Broadway" the way the people of Buenos Aires receive Eva Peron in one of the musicals sent up in the latest version, which opened earlier this month. But instead of the pitch-perfect musical numbers of previous years, this "Forbidden Broadway" is a soggy mess. With a very few exceptions, the numbers are misses or total misfires.

I’ve been second to none in my praise of "Forbidden Broadway." But Gerard Alessandrini, the creator, co-director and guiding spirit of this ensemble, gives us a series of numbers reminiscent of those mildly topical Greenwich Village revues that were considered edgy back in the ’50s. (Rent "Let’s Make Love," with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand, if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)

Instead of the seamless production that zipped through a baker’s dozen of Broadway musicals, this "Forbidden" rehashes ancient issues and shows. Not only is there, unlike previous seasons, no story arc (a faux-murder mystery was a staple), the numbers have no relation to each other and seem to have been lined up at random.

The opening number, a takeoff of "Brigadoon," indicates the show’s misdirection. "Brigadoon" might be beloved by theater queens, but this hoary dinner-theater staple hasn’t been seen on Broadway since 1980.

The "Evita" parody focuses on Ricky Martin’s lack of employment and Spanish-speaker Elena Roger’s mangling of her lines. Except that Martin remains a hugely popular crooner. And Roger was nominated for an Olivier Award for her West End "Evita." The snooty English honor an actress who can’t mouth the King’s English, with an award named for Lawrence Olivier?

There’s a nice bit in the Second Act about how Mandy Patinkin and Patty Lupone are past their sell-by date to be performing songs meant for teenagers. But what a missed opportunity not putting this right after "Evita," where the two actors who made their names in the original production could have segued nicely, especially La Lupone, who is not known for her tact about her successors.

Matthew Broderick gets the treatment for his lazy song and dance in "Nice Work." But this is just going over what every critic in town said about Broderick. Similar make-work give "Rock of Ages" (put down as a lowbrow "Nascar musical") and "Newsies" (indigent street urchins dance like Astaire and Kelly) the same been-there-done-that feel.

For the revival of "Annie," now in previews, Alessandrini weirdly makes the child star an old, bent-over hag with a walker, which I just didn’t get at all. Nor did I understand why all the talk about what a money-loser "Follies" has been, when the show’s ridiculous book and fossil cast are just sitting there.

"Follies" gives Alessandrini the chance to roast Bernadette Peters’ lack of singing ability. Having seen the show, I could only wonder "Huh?" Since life is too short, I never watch the Tony’s (now there’s a show worth putting over the coals!), so I missed Catherine Zeta-Jones’ apparently disastrous turn. I only saw the actual show, "A Little Night Music," and was enthralled by her, voice and all.

If anything, that show’s bare-bones production was the real culprit. But no, it and the equally cheap "Porgy and Bess" get a pass. "Porgy" does get its just desserts for dumbing down the original operatic score.

All too often, this ’Forbidden’ shoots at apples with a cannon. Having Judy Garland come back to complain about how her autobiographical show emphasizes her substance abuse is a bit like a fictional Hitler fighting allegations of anti-Semitism

The "Once" medley goes on way too long. I was really hoping that "Forbidden" would give it to the bargain-basement musicals that squareball Broadway producers are throwing at "the kids." "American Idiot" and the really terrible "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" go unnoticed, as does "Hair" (OK, hippies, not grunge). Speaking of sincere, totally wrong-headed guitar musicals, why, oh Lord, did the wildly overpraised "Next to Normal" not get the "Once" treatment?

Instead of singing about how the TV series "Smash" is less realistic about the making of a Broadway musical than the 1933 film "42nd Street," its number concentrates on the competition between the two star wannabes. Is this really exceptional on a TV "reality" show?

I couldn’t figure out whether the "morons" who are the subject of "The Book of Mormon" takeoff were supposed to be the show’s creators, its audience, critics or all of the above. Aside from the tee-hee naughty shock value of that show’s obscene book and lyrics, the real sin of "The Book of Mormon" is beginning this Mormon chic that plagues us?

All too often, this "Forbidden" shoots at apples with a cannon. Having Judy Garland come back to complain about how her autobiographical show emphasizes her substance abuse is a bit like a fictional Hitler fighting allegations of anti-Semitism.

This show recycles some older numbers, but the choices seem random. Idina Menzel hasn’t been in "Wicked" for years, so why bother? That the audience for "Mary Poppins" is mostly suburbanites is hardly news. Nor is the found-object art-junk aspect of "The Lion King."

If you’re going to follow it with a bit about Julie Taymor’s tenure at "Spider Man" (barely touching on that’s show’s cast triage), why not remind people that she got the "Spiderman" gig based on the success of "Lion King"? Finally, "Jersey Boys." Really, "Jersey Boys"?!?

The real crime here, however, is not what’s in the show but what’s left out. Although Jesus Christ makes a brief cameo appearance, "Jesus Christ, Superstar" and "Godspell" are ignored. Oh come on: two hippie Christs in one season? That one was easy. And where was this season’s ready-made mega-bomb, "Chaplin"? Just the name screams "inappropriate musical subject matter."

If any musical had ever begged for a send-up, it would have to be "On a Clear Day." A perfectly innocuous Broadway warhorse is rewritten as a proto-gay rights romance. Gays. Broadway. Rinse. Repeat.

Certainly, the four cast members share no blame for any production woes. They all sing, dance, mug and imitate beautifully. OSHA should look into David Caldwell’s near-constant onstage piano work. The costumes are, as usual, fun.

When Norma Desmond complained that the movies had gotten small, it was a comment on the "suits" who had turned a popular art form into a bottom-line assembly line industry. What went for Hollywood in the early ’50s goes at least triple for Broadway.

The Fabulous Invalid has never seemed less fabulous or more of an invalid. Three years ago, Alessandrini abandoned "Forbidden Broadway" because, he said at the time, the shows were already so awful they defied satire.

The corporate forces that churn out fare like "Shreck," "Ghost" and "Sister Act" (a number about film-to-Broadway? Nah, too obvious) alas, appear to have defeated him. Not only have the shows themselves gotten smaller, but so has the premier show about the shows.

"Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking!" runs through January 6 at 304 W. 47th Street. For info or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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