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Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit logo
Jennifer Simard, Ron Bohmer, Megan Lewis, and Jason Mills
in Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The new edition of Forbidden Broadway -- Gerard Alessandrini's long-running satire of Broadway celebrities, hits, and misfires -- is, like its predecessors, bright, barbed, fast-paced, and cheerful. But it must be said that, this time around, there's a little less inside joking and a little more pandering to the masses than usual, and the skewerings leave fewer wounds. This is surprising in a season that, so far, has practically been begging to be insulted. Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit is rowdy fun whether you're a dedicated theatergoer or just passing through, but let's examine a few areas where Alessandrini might want to do some constructive tweaking next time around.

Missed targets: One attends a new Forbidden Broadway eager to see how Alessandrini and his talented collaborators will whack Broadway's recent arrivals. Has there been a juicier slab of meat to throw to the dogs this season than Brooklyn: The Musical? But a brief mention of Eden Espinosa aside, it's conspicuously absent here. Imagine how Alvin Colt, Forbidden Broadway's indispensable costumer, might have parodied those homeless-chic designs -- or how Alessandrini might have belittled those lyrics. And aside from a middling spoof of 'night, Mother (with Edie Falco singing "Ma, I Wanna Kill Myself" to the tune of "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me"), don't expect any mention of the nonmusical season. Maybe this is partly a matter of timing: Democracy and Gem of the Ocean have just opened. But we'd love to see what Alessandrini and company could do to Phylicia Rashad's audience-baiting mannerisms or James Naughton's woodenness -- and Ron Bohmer, one of Forbidden Broadway's estimable quartet, would be an ideal Naughton. And what about the recent, dispiriting proliferation of one-person shows? There's no lachrymose Billy Crystal here, no shrill Eve Ensler, no hyper Mario Cantone, no struggling Whoopi Goldberg. They demand Forbidden Broadwayization. Let's hope.

Miking: Even as it consistently and justifiably mocks Broadway sound design, Forbidden Broadway is itself becoming more heavily amplified. Alessandrini and co-director Phillip George are increasingly blocking their gifted cast around standing mikes or having them strut the stage with powerful hand mikes. (At the performance I attended, one hand mike malfunctioned during a Hairspray send-up, forcing Jennifer Simard and Bohmer to do some quick re-blocking.) The Douglas Fairbanks Theater isn't a barn like the Gershwin, and these performers are musical-comedy pros who know how to project. Let them do so and turn down the sound; some of the lyrics are so overamplified that they're unintelligible, just like at Brooklyn. Given the general excellence of Alessandrini's lyrics, that's a pity.

Cross-fertilization: Dracula, The Musical has been begging for the Forbidden Broadway treatment ever since it opened, and Alessandrini does get in a superb visual pun involving Jason Mills as Tom Hewitt. But instead of employing Frank Wildhorn's Broadway bombast, Dracula is sent up to an admittedly more identifiable Avenue Q tune -- and the Avenue Q segment enlists a melody from, of all things, Gypsy. Nor does the Bombay Dreams sketch use anything from Bombay Dreams. All of these spoofs are fun, but having to go outside the immediate property to satirize it dilutes the impact.

Jennifer Simard, Ron Bohmer, and Megan Lewis in
Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Repeats: No one expects Alessandrini to come up with two dozen new segments and entirely scrap previous material; the season isn't busy enough to permit it, anyway. And some slightly used material has been smartly updated for the current edition. Case in point: The devastating demolition of the Alfred Molina-David Leveaux Fiddler on the Roof ("A Fiddler with no Jews? Sounds crazy, no?") is now augmented with a funny speculation on Harvey Fierstein's Tevye. And while Thoroughly Modern Millie is gone, that show was so asking for it -- and the annoyingly perky Sutton Foster of Megan Elizabeth Lewis, stepping in for an ailing Christine Pedi, is spot-on. But the Beauty and the Beast spoof, like the Beast itself, is getting very long in the tooth. Similarly, The Lion King segment ought to be updated or retired. (But don't mothball Alvin Colt's gray-towel-and-vacuum-hose elephant getup; it remains a showstopper.)

Intros: Earlier Forbidden Broadway shows sent cast members out there in readily identifiable celebrity-specific drag and generally assumed that this was enough for audiences to figure out who and what was being spoofed. I'll never forget the lights coming up on Donna English as Victor/Victoria, leaning on the piano and puffing a cigar, both visually and aurally indistinguishable from Julie Andrews. (Simard's PBS-documentary Julie isn't quite so uncanny, but I did love her gushing, "There's nothing like a PBS tribute to proclaim the death of an American art form.") Perhaps trusting its audience less and/or catering especially to Broadway-challenged out-of-towners, this edition seems to begin more sequences with offstage voiceovers: e.g., "Ladies and gentlemen, Brad Oscar." It's a minor distraction, but a revealing one: When Forbidden Broadway has to tell rather than show, the feeling of conspiratorial, we're-all-in-this-together ill will suffers.

New York references: Forbidden Broadway can always be counted on for some New York in-jokes that will soar over the heads of tourists but will be all the funnier to the locals. This one does have Jason Mills -- who, sensibly, has been directed to wear as little as possible throughout -- making a nasty dig at Chelsea's Big Cup café. But a little more Gotham insularity wouldn't hurt. (There's nothing here to rival Dame Edna cooing, "Oh, you're from New Jersey? What exit, darling?")

Bookends: Forbidden Broadway has always had an original opening number explaining what the evening will be like and a closing number that tries to reassure audiences that the theater scene isn't really as bleak as it has been made out to be. After more than two decades, the opening number feels toothless and redundant; if you don't know what Forbidden Broadway is, what are you doing here? And the current finale assures us, to a lilting Jerry Herman melody, that "the Golden Age is now." But it isn't, Gerard -- and you've spent the last two hours proving it. Why exhort audiences to share false good cheer when you're such an able, observant destroyer of fake Broadway bonhomie?

Alessandrini's way with words is as unerring as ever, and he still excels at detonating prime targets in well-turned couplets. Two examples: "I am unworthy of your words, I cannot sing your minor thirds" (addressed to Stephen Sondheim) and "Did you see Mamma Mia!? It's like furniture from Ikea." More such venom, and less of the frustrating compromises that come with the maintenance of a long-running hit, will make the next installment of Forbidden Broadway even tastier and more hilarious.

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