Sometimes you don’t know how much you miss something until it returns, and that’s indisputably true of Forbidden Broadway, which its creator Gerard Alessandrini has just brought triumphantly back to the 47th Street Theatre in a new edition entitled Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking.
While this version, the first in four years, may not be the absolute best of the 30-year-old series, as it pokes fun at the peccadilloes, pretenses, and perils of the Broadway musical, it often registers as among the finest editions.
Indeed, it has been directed for endless hoots by Alessandrini and Phillip George, and hilariously acted by cast members Natalie Charle Ellis, Jenny Lee Stern, Scott Richard Foster, and Marcus Stevens, with David Caldwell, back at the piano, demonstrating stamina equal to a 24-piece Broadway orchestra.
This jovial attack begins as a Brigadoon-like reawakening of the beloved spoof-fest before hitting one of its highlights: “Evita 2012,” with Stevens as a forever-grinning Ricky Martin and Stern as Elena Roger declaring she suffers from “just a little lack of star quality.”
Even better is the Nice Work If You Can Get It sequence, where Marcus earns yuks as a song-and-dance-challenged Matthew Broderick, Ellis is Kelli O’Hara, having difficulty getting laughs, and Stevens and Stern arrive to help send up Kathleen Marshall’s vigorous choreography.
Even immeasurably more guffaw-provoking is the sequence that has Stevens donning a gray beard as Stephen Sondheim to bemoan the revivals of Follies, yet to earn any money on its huge investments, and the Public Theater’s Into the Woods, with Ellis as a woefully disguised Donna Murphy.
For some, however, the show’s peak may come in the second act, during which Ellis, as ousted Spider-Man director Julie Taymor and Foster’s Bono employ “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls to lacerate each other verbally; followed by “Mandy and Patti,” an opportunity for Stevens and Stern to parade imitations of Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone so on the money that it might be the real top-liners mocking themselves; and the hysterical “Judy,” a swing at Tracie Bennett’s appearance in End of the Rainbow, in which the spot-on Stern sings “Gimme, gimme, gimme an ovation/She lost the Tony for her phony imitation.”
True, not every entry connects. Annie as “Granny-Annie” is so-so; the brief Ghost ribbing doesn’t quite make it, and neither does The Book of Mormon sketch, when Stevens as Matt Stone and Foster as Trey Parker maintain they’re just in it for the money.
But there’s no missing Alessandrini’s sharpest underlying satirical point — expressed by Ellis’ Mary Poppins in “Feed the ‘Burbs,” chastising audiences and producers alike for choosing “tepid vapid titles they know.” Luckily, there’s nothing tepid or vapid about this kick of a show!