Stage review: 'Forbidden Broadway' still a hoot

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NEW YORK -- The title, "Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking!," as with just about everything from creator Gerard Alessandrini's "pinch of arsenic and rhyme"-tipped pen, cuts two ways. Yes, the take-no-prisoners musical parody of Broadway is alive again after a three-year hiatus; but also, it's still kicking up the traces and kicking the shins (and higher up) of the Broadway shows that give it life.

You can't parody something unless you know it well, so Alessandrinian snark -- especially when delivered with his verbal wit -- is ultimately flattery. Here's evidence: I had just the day before been completely charmed by this year's Tony-winning musical, "Once," but "Forbidden's" cutting parody, the longest sequence in the show, had me gurgling with pleasure.

Face it, we don't mind seeing even our favorites mocked, especially when we sneakily acknowledge the point made. Mr. Alessandrini does in another medium what a critic should do, and often better. With "Once," his chief target is sentimentality and seriousness, which join ego as his favorite follies.

That said, I didn't actually choke on my own laughter, as I have at some "Forbidden Broadways" of the past. Maybe I've gotten blase, but I think it's because there seem to be fewer extended sequences, and the numerous short bits (20 overall) don't develop the momentum that sweeps you away.

Still, Mr. Alessandrini (who also co-directs with Phillip George) often hits it out of the park, as in his spoof of a slack Matthew Broderick in director Kathleen Marshall's "Nice Work If You Can Get It" ("Kathleen tries hard to vary us ..."). Julie Taymor and Bono sing "call a lawyer and sue me, sue me" over "Spider-Man." And Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone trade wonderful egotisms, smarm and schtick.

Pianist David Caldwell drives the show along, while whirling through clever impressions and breakneck costume changes is the cast of four: Jenny Lee Stern, Scott Richard Foster, Natalie Charle Ellis and, the Pittsburgher and only one with just two names, Marcus Stevens.

Mr. Stevens excels as (among others) Matthew Broderick, Stephen Sondheim, Harvey Fierstein, Che from "Evita," Raffiki from "Lion King," Mandy Patinkin, one of those guys from "Book of Mormon" and a flying monkey. That's the kind of flexibility you need.

"Forbidden Broadway is at the 47th St. Theatre; tickets at 1-800-432-7250.



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