It’s been several years since Gerard Alessandrini dusted off his skewering sword with which to parody working actors, writers and other well intentioned theatre folk. Now, in the current Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! he’s back, and the current crop of creators have been spotted cowering in corners, hoping he won’t notice them, although some have felt honored to make the cut; a cutting comment by Alessandrini has been known to elevate them to a spot beside Broadway’s glitterati.
With only one musician (David Caldwell at the piano) and a cast of four, he’s offering comments on the likes of Liza Minnelli, Michelle Williams, Andy Karl, Sylvester Stallone, Kelli O’Hara, Andrea Martin, all the principals in Matilda, the entire cast of Les Misérables, folk singer Carrie Underwood, pop writer Cindi Lauper, Harvey Fierstein, Alan Cumming, and many many more.
As co-director of the show, Mr. Alessandrini shares with Phillip George kudos for casting four remarkably versatile actors in Carter Calvert, Scott Richard Foster, Mia Gentile and Marcus Stevens. They work together seamlessly as they musically destroy all who come before them. To focus on some of the highlights, Ms. Calvert makes good natured mince meat of Liza Minnelli, now too old to play Sally Bowles, as she takes a crack at “So What?” which is Frau Schneider’s big number in Cabaret, currently running as a “revival of a revival of a revival.” Merciless, and hilarious. Messrs. Stevens and Foster have a go at Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of The Book of Mormon, which is a gleeful comment more properly titled The Book of Morons.
It doesn’t quit. Jason Robert Brown, the prolific composer, arranger, orchestrator who seems to pop up once or twice a season on and off Broadway, is elevated to theatre icon by the attack of toothy Marcus Stevens, whose smile grows wider as the lyrics he sings grow more vicious, and by the time he’s through with Mr. Brown, the poor man has been put in the punishment corner to repent. Carter Calvert matches with a devastating take on Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner, a country singer who dared to take on the role of Maria in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music which everyone living in this era knows belongs to Mary Martin and Julie Andrews. Now that Forbidden Broadway has checked in with its opinion of her work in it, I don’t believe Ms. Underwood will be back on the boards, ever.
The long running small musical Once is poked at and roasted by Mr. Foster and Ms. Gentile with some help from the rest of the cast, in an attempt to unearth the reason for the surprisingly great success of this folksy pub musical.
The warm and welcome glow that greeted us from the stage on the drenching rainy night I saw the show gave us good cause to expect a real treat. It delivered, as promised, but alas, all that good work was almost wiped out by the simply unacceptable sound delivered by Matt Kraus’ sound design. All of these fine performers worked with a hand mic held close to their lips in the manner of someone like Hedwig, she of the Angry Inch, or Janis Joplin whose songs were always hurled at us, as balls from a cannon.
In the Davenport Theatre, a sweet little space with a capacity of 149, the sound system was designed to work at Madison Square Garden. As a result, many of the zippy and very clever Alessandrini lyrics required us to guess at their pungency, and when we are guessing, we certainly aren’t laughing. A lyric can’t get a laugh when it’s unintelligible, that’s simply a non negotiable rule. I believe someone managed to get word to the management during the intermission, because the sound was noticeably more under control in Act II. So if you decide to treat yourself to this delightful show of irreverent comment on the current state of the theatre, don’t hesitate to holler “turn it down!” if the sound level is off at the start. With just a piano for accompaniment, and only 149 people to reach, you have the right to demand that four talented singers and a gifted author be given a fair chance to entertain you. For I promise, you will be entertained.
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging! is onstage at the Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenue), NYC. Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.