New York City Theater
"Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab"
47th Street Theatre
All good things come to an end, and the legendary “Forbidden Broadway” is now enjoying its final run, so they say, closing in January. But what a satisfying finale! The show streaks across the sky like a meteor. With four top performers, a non-stop pace, and lyrics that are frequently clever, “Forbidden Broadway goes out with a bang.
This time around the show’s full title, courtesy of writer/creator Gerard Alessandrini, is “Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab.” Why “rehab”? Some of us, the writer suggests, are Broadway addicts, unable to stay away from those spectaculars.
But these days it is not so hard to stay away—given the ticket prices and the quality of shows. And indeed, this spoof of Broadway is better than many of its targets, as its players skewer “Xanadu,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Wicked” and the like.
The four performers—Christina Bianco, Jared Bradshaw, Gina Kreiezmar, and Michael West—are in excellent voice. But, beyond that, they create a myriad of characters, changing in a flash from Patti LuPone to Kerri O’Hara to James Barbour to Mel Brooks to Liza Minelli (to name a few). Their backstage dressers perform heroically as the actors reemerge in seconds, sporting new wigs, costumes and personalities.
It is non-stop fun, but highlights are Kreiezmar’s reincarnation of Patti LuPone’s Mama Rose (“Gypsy”), West as James Barbour’s Sydney Carton (“A Tale of Two Cities”) and Bianco and Bradshaw as the lovers in “South Pacific.”
Alessandrini goes beyond straight parody--intertwining shows, as familiar tunes take on new meaning. Patti LuPone is not only the self-centered Mama Rose, but also a self-centered LuPone. References to stars in competing Broadway shows pepper the material. When Bianco, for instance, becomes Kelli OHara of “South Pacific,” she warbles, “When my hair is a bright canary yellow, I can turn Christine Ebersole green,” and later, “I have heard Sutton Foster rant and bellow. We’ve progressed and the goody girl is dead, but I’m only a cock-eyed ingénue, and peroxide has seeped in my head.”
The problem with “Forbidden Broadway” is that it speaks to the insider, to the informed. For the dedicated Broadway theatergoer, the Broadway addict, if you will, the show is familiar terrain, with its inside jokes. But the outsider who sees few shows in a season will be lost. Compounding the problem is the fast pace of the material, so that lyrics are often incomprehensible.
Yet “Forbidden Broadway” has offered sophisticated entertainment over the years, and, with humor and affection, it has taken the pomp and pomposity out of Broadway. “Forbidden Broadway,” if it really closes shop, will be sorely missed.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 25, 2008