Pedi and Graae as Minnelli and Cumming
Pedi and Graae as Minnelli and Cumming
The latest edition of Gerard Alessandrini's long-running parody of Broadway musicals has blasted into Los Angeles. Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back! is a funny, fast-paced send-up of all the new (and not-so-new) productions currently running on the Great White Way and on tour. Unfortunately--or fortunately--there is a lot to parody, from tuneless messes like Martin Guerre to the bland and interminable Cats to the vapidness of The Lion King.

The show--which has been running for more than 16 years in New York in various incarnations, and which visited Los Angeles six years ago--uses a familiar sketch and musical format to skewer the best and worst of Broadway shows. While some of the targets seem like parodies themselves (do we really need to make fun of the Broadway version of Saturday Night Fever?), Alessandrini cleverly punctures both the pretentiousness and the hollowness of the current Broadway scene.

The ensemble performances of Susanne Blakeslee, Jason Graae, Gerry McIntyre, and Christine Pedi are uniformly strong. Graae is memorable as a malevolent Alan Cumming from Cabaret cavorting evilly with the cast of The Sound of Music; as a pathetic Andrew Lloyd Webber, crooning that his glory days are over; as an over-amplified Phantom of the Opera; and as the gimmicky, plucky impresario Cameron Mackintosh.

McIntyre and Graae as gay swans
McIntyre and Graae as gay swans
Blakeslee captures both the sappiness of Julie Andrew's early career and the pathos of her later days. She also does a hilarious rendition of Sarah Brightman milking her music for all its sentimentalized goo, and she perfectly captures the narcissistic rapture of Barbra Streisand. Pedi offers terrific caricatures of a raspy Elaine Stritch, a hopelessly cute Bernadette Peters, a fawning Liza Minnelli, and an energetic, engaging Ethel Merman. McIntyre is wonderful as a klutzy gay swan in Swan Lake and a tragically over-accessorized Lion King.

The longest-running shows come in for the worst ribbing: The Cats sequence celebrates that show's closing, while a "tribute" to the endless Les Misérables is titled "Ten Years More." Other shows that come in for savage but justified critiques are Miss Saigon and Rent.

One of the most telling numbers has Pedi (as Ethel Merman) urging Graae (as Michael Crawford in Phantom) to discard his electronic enhancements and sing from his diaphragm in order to project his voice. In the midst of frivolity, this bit makes us long for the kinds of shows, songs, and singers that could hit us where we live--even if it was all the way in the back row.