Valerie Fagan, Janet Dickinson, and Jared Bradshaw
in Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening
(© Carol Rosegg)
Valerie Fagan, Janet Dickinson, and Jared Bradshaw
in Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening
(© Carol Rosegg)
While most theatrical institutions inevitably grow stale through the years, Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening, now at the 47th Street Theatre, is as freshly minted as a brand new shiny penny. We would say this is one of the funniest versions of the long-running revue we've ever seen, except we seem to want to say that every year.

Still, this new edition has a number of special things going for it, most notably a year's worth of great -- and particularly quirky -- Broadway material to spoof. Creator/writer Gerard Alessandrini gets to use his considerable wit on such mouthwatering targets as Spring Awakening, Grey Gardens, Mary Poppins, The Coast of Utopia, Company, Grease, Legally Blonde, Xanadu, and, Curtains. (There's even a dig on the yet-to-open Little Mermaid.)

Alessandrini is, perhaps, Broadway's most underrated lyricist; the rhymes he has come up with for the past 25 years are as consistently funny as they are brilliantly inventive. (Who else would rhyme Mamma Mia with gonorrhea?) And even when he goes back to spoof a show that he has ribbed before, he finds brand new ways to skewer it. For instance, his take on the "revival" of Les Miserables is delicious, playing up the fact that the actors (and the audience) were told that the show was coming back for six months and have already seen it extended somewhere into infinity.

Another thing that Forbidden Broadway has in its favor is its electric cast. Alessandrini and his behind-the-scenes colleagues have an extraordinary track record for hiring wildly talented people -- including such formidable talents as Brad Oscar, Bryan Batt, Felicia Finley, Christine Pedi, and Ron Bohmer -- but rarely are all four performers in the same show as gifted as the quartet who take the stage in the current edition.

Janet Dickinson has the remarkable ability to not only sound exactly like Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens, but to look like her. It's a stunning impersonation made all the more amazing by the fact that she somehow also manages to look and sound like every other performer she plays, including Donna Murphy, Beth Leavel, and even Meryl Streep.

Valerie Fagan is a robust Ethel Merman, among others, while Jared Bradshaw is dead-on and hilarious as a lead-footed David Hyde Pierce and James Donegan's singing and dancing as Brian F. O'Bryne is priceless.

Lighting designer Marc Janowitz flashes with genius on the small stage, while longtime costume designer Alvin Colt continues to get laughs out of a budget that must be under 20 dollars. Finally, Alessandrini and Phillip George co-direct the show with the speed of a comic storm; the bits spark, there is thunderous laughter, a rain of applause, and then the next spoof is already rolling in.

Simply put, the only thing that's truly forbidden about Forbidden Broadway is not going to see it.