NEW YORK (AP) — If you enjoy seeing Broadway musicals and then picking them apart afterward, the return of "Forbidden Broadway" after a three-year hiatus will truly lift your spirits.
The 21st edition, subtitled "Alive and Kicking" is definitely alive with mirth, cleverly jabbing at the latest trends in Broadway shows with barbs to spare for theater luminaries who are familiar targets from past FB shows.
Spirited songs and lively choreography are provided by Gerard Alessandrini, the original creator and director of the often-annual show since 1982, with co-direction and additional dialogue by Phillip George. The sharp, witty production is back in its regular location at off-Broadway's 47th Street Theatre, and while Alessandrini finds much to criticize about the current state of Broadway musicals, his love of theater clearly shines through despite his joy in skewering many of the current offerings.
Beginning with a riff on "Brigadoon" to herald FB's magical reappearance, the versatile and talented cast of five pronounce their own show still "alive and kicking, like Jesus and Judy Garland." Sparkling musical direction is provided by David Caldwell on piano, as the cast sings and dances through lightning-paced spoofs of at least 20 shows from the 2011-2012 Broadway season,
Over-commercialization, tired revivals and dumbing down of classic scores are back as some of the usual targets of Alessandrini's poison pen, with Disney productions a particular source of ire. There's a cleverly choreographed send-up of "Newsies" on the very small stage ("We get so frenetic/you may need a medic"), and Diane Paulus (performed with glee by Jenny Lee Stern) smugly scissors up a Gershwin script for "Porgy and Bess."
In a nod to the ouster of Julie Taymor from "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," Scott Richard Foster impersonates Bono morosely singing "We'll do the show/with or without you." Foster also nicely impersonates Steve Kazee of "Once" ("We're so unpretentious that now we're pretentious."
Although we are warned at the outset about "showbiz victims, slain with lyrics," it's still a bit shocking when the harmlessly pleasant revival of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is savaged, with "'S'Wonderful" becoming "S'wonderbread/s'mayonnaise." Marcus Stevens does a shambling impersonation of Matthew Broderick, warbling off-key, "Nice song if I could sing it," while Natalie Charle Ellis as Kelli O'Hara stiffly drones lyrics like "The witty songs are droll/but not with me."
A more successful number features Stevens as Stephen Sondheim, sending up "Follies" and "Into the Woods" by having Sondheim sing self-mocking lyrics to some of his classic tunes like "Agony." Stevens also lampoons Harvey Fierstein and Mandy Patinkin, while Ellis zings Catherine Zeta Jones with an off-pitch mockery called "Send In the Hounds" and does a coke-addled, baby-dropping imitation of Audra McDonald in "Porgy and Bess."
Stern is very funny as an aging, grumpy Little Orphan Annie, exhausted at the thought of yet another upcoming revival of "Annie." Stern skillfully represents a number of Broadway divas, including an accurately feral Elena Roger from "Evita," a too-chipper Sutton Foster, and a perfectly pouting Bernadette Peters ("In Stephen's ear/I'm clear/I'm musical.")
She delightfully portrays up-and-coming Megan Hilty from "Smash," the hit TV show about Broadway musicals, ("Fade in on a dame/with a big juicy frame/and a name gaining fame"). And she's a standout as Judy Garland critiquing Tracie Bennett from "End of the Rainbow" with trenchant new lyrics for "You Made Me Love You" that begin, "You made me crazy/I wish you hadn't done it..."
The production team does an outstanding job, with colorful, often-zany costumes, hilarious wigs and what must be a thousand props and lighting changes.
Alessandrini renames last season's megahit "The Book of Moron" and his wonderful parody of that show's "I Believe" that precedes his finale includes hopeful thoughts like, "Now we believe/that blind faith, youth and guts/can rescue Broadway."