Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation Boldly Goes Where Few Critics Have Gone Before
Gerard Alessandrini's comedy revue returns for the next class of theater-makers.
You might think there's no higher honor on Broadway than a Tony Award, but you would be wrong. You know you've truly arrived on the Great White Way when you've been roasted by Forbidden Broadway, writer-director Gerard Alessandrini's parody revue at the Triad. This latest edition is the first since 2014's Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!, if you don't count Alessandrini's 2016 project, Spamilton. It lovingly skewers Broadway's next generation of shows and stars — perhaps a bit too lovingly at times. But when that old Forbidden Broadway sting comes back, you feel it.
Who would have guessed that one of the most brutal takedowns would come from the world's nicest nanny, Mary Poppins (Jenny Lee Stern with a voice sweeter than a spoonful of sugar)? Her lullaby, "The Place Where the Lost Shows Go," is an instant classic and a treat for connoisseurs of obscure shows. Earlier, Stern delivers uncanny impressions of both Judy Garland and Renée Zellweger, the latter being the subject of Alessandrini's cattiest zing.
Hilarious impersonations abound from this versatile cast: Immanuel Houston is on point as André De Shields and teeming with 'tude as Jennifer Holliday. As Billy Porter, he is nearly as over-the-top as the genuine article: "Category is: Me!"
Chris Collins-Pisano serves an appropriately manic mimicry of Alex Brightman in Beetlejuice, while Aline Mayagoitia contorts her face for convincing impressions of Karen Olivo, Caitlin Kinnunen, and Bernadette Peters. Wig designer Conor Donnelly takes these performances over the finish line, making these Broadway stars instantly recognizable through their distinctive dos.
Perhaps it is a sign of Broadway's increasing reliance on child actors that Forbidden Broadway has its youngest-ever cast member: 13-year-old Joshua Turchin gives an exquisitely twitchy performance as "Evan Has-Been", and impressively fills a number of adult roles.
Alessandrini seems most inspired by directorial hubris (Rachel Chavkin, Alex Timbers, and Daniel Fish are all name-checked). The entire section on Woke-lahoma! is a hoot, and I nearly did a spit take with my scotch during a song that imagined which other musicals could benefit from the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene treatment of the most recent Fiddler on the Roof revival: "Cole Porter…IN YIDDISH," the cast sings to the tune of "Tradition."
Parodies of Frozen and The Ferryman are highlights — I was especially impressed with the amount of time and thought Alessandrini devoted to the latter, even though it has been closed for months. But "How Are Things in Irish Drama?" (sung to the tune of "How are Things in Glocca Morra?") is too funny to stay in the drawer, and I'm glad Alessandrini ran with it.
Not all of the numbers are created equal (a late tribute to Harold Prince falls flat). But when the lyrics aren't as sharp, the cast is usually able to compensate so that we don't realize it. Choreographer Gerry McIntyre conjures major production numbers with just five actors on a tiny cabaret stage, while Dustin Cross crafts iconic costumes on a budget. Holding it all together is pianist Fred Barton, a one-man orchestra.
Even if it's not the funniest Forbidden Broadway ever, fans of the franchise won't be disappointed by The Next Generation. Forbidden Broadway has become the essential pilgrimage for the Broadway faithful, an opportunity to laugh at the shows we love (and laugh harder at the ones we don't). I suspect this won't be the last generation satirized by Alessandrini, a sharp observer of Broadway who puts most of us critics to shame.