It's back, and punchier than ever. Gerard Alessandrini's ever-evolving musical satire, Forbidden Broadway, returns to the Davenport Theatre with Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! Admittedly, a few of the sketches are swing and miss. Still, you can take comfort in the knowledge that a mildly funny sketch will end within five minutes, making way for something wickedly hysterical. You won't want to miss this laugh-out-loud revue as it socks it to Idina Menzel, Harvey Fierstein, and, of course, Les Misérables.
Forbidden Broadway has long been required viewing for musical-theater aficionados, eager to see how Alessandrini will skewer their favorite (or least favorite) Broadway shows. This iteration is much like the previous 18: David Caldwell bangs out familiar Broadway melodies on piano as four actors perform nearly every role on Broadway.
This year, Jason Robert Brown and The Bridges of Madison County receive the most brutal ribbing: In the darkness, a voiceover announces, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the president of the Jason Robert Brown Fan Club: Jason Robert Brown." Marcus Stevens appears in a spotlight wearing a ridiculously coiffed black wig and suit. He's a walking, talking cartoon version of the blog-happy self-congratulatory composer, here to introduce The Bridges of Madison County: "It is my fourth and best musical about adultery," he beams.
Idina Menzel (Mia Gentile) gets similar treatment with the Oscar-worthy ballad, "Let It Blow." "My loud and whiny voice has reinvented sound," she wails. And yet, Gentile sounds pretty good while singing this, as if she's been doing it for a long time in the shower. (Haven't we all?) Alessandrini's lyrics are as much an indictment of popular tastes as they are the artists who cater to them.
Carter Calvert does an excellent impersonation of Fran Drescher in Cinderella: "I love singing Rodger Hammerstein's songs! They're indestructible even when I sing them." Calvert doubles down on miscast Rodgers & Hammerstein in the second act when she appears as a crooning Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music. Scott Richard Foster does a convincing Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, declaring himself before God and Cyndi Lauper, "Drag Queen of the Year." All of these moments contain the familiar bite of truth spoken aloud.
By contrast, the parody of Aladdin feels downright tepid. It focuses mostly on the fact that the show is glitzy, overpriced tourist catnip. (Isn't that the point?) Similarly, the segment on The Book of Mormon (predictably renamed The Book of Morons) elicits a lukewarm audience response. Alessandrini's biggest beef with Matt Parker and Trey Stone seems to be that their show is foulmouthed and disgusting. And...? Of course, it must be pretty hard to come up with a parody that is funnier than the source material for The Book of Mormon. Forbidden Broadway hasn't done it.
Fortunately, Comes Out Swinging ends with a KO: All four cast members march out onstage wearing suits and armbands bearing the corporate logos of multinational goliaths like Chase Bank and American Airlines. These corporate fascists serenade us with a rewritten version of Tomorrow Belongs to Me in a moment that is the most intelligent and prescient in the entire show.
Ten-time Tony Award nominee A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is conspicuously missing from the proceedings. As Alessandrini noted in an earlier interview, "Forbidden Broadway is really only spoofing hits." I guess the producers have something to look forward to if the murder-themed tuner wins the Tony Award for Best Musical next month.
The advantage of having such a minimal setup and a cast of multitalented performers is the ability to add fresh material, meaning you can revisit Forbidden Broadway again and again and still see something new. You'll definitely want to check it out as the Tony horse race kicks into silly mode.