TAMPA — No one can spoof show business like the actors and writers who are steeped in it, and that is part of the reason Forbidden Broadway is still going strong after 35 years. The fast-paced musical revue has gone through numerous revisions and given work to more than 2,000 struggling actors, including a young Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington and Renée Zellweger.
Forbidden Broadway has become a rite of passage, an initiation into an exclusive club. It is a feather in one's cap to be skewered so skillfully, a slight to be spared. The show, which is really series of fast-paced musical sketches, rewrites well known songs, usually to make fun of the people singing them.
Actors, writers, directors and producers associated with Broadway's biggest hits over half a century, from My Fair Lady to Les Misérables to Hamilton have all taken their lumps. Impersonators of Patti LuPone have sung I Get a Kick Out of Me (from I Get a Kick Out of You in Anything Goes). Mandy Patinkin's popular rendition of Over the Rainbow becomes Somewhat Overindulgent. Title songs from musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim turn into The Phantom of the Musical and Into the Words.
The four-person parody revue is running through March at the Jaeb Theater, the cabaret-style venue at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. That's a good location, since the show is more like a nightclub act than a play. A local production ran here in 2010 at the Jaeb; and while its director, Edward Staudenmayer, performs in this one, the current version represents a significant upgrade. The four-person cast is rich in Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater experience, and are able to lampoon some of the best singers while sounding a heck of a lot like them.
As with previous iterations, this Forbidden Broadway contains only a sliver of dozens of numbers penned by Gerard Alessandrini, a veteran actor who first staged his satirically rewritten showtunes at New York's Palsson's Supper Club in 1982. Among the early guests was Rex Reed, whose full-page rave in the New York Daily News turned the show into an instant hit.
While the many updates keep track of new hits and changing trends, the trendiness and commercialism Allessandrini originally targeted have not changed all that much. The show gets one of its most acidic shots off early, with the character of Cameron Mackintosh, the producer behind Cats, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and Mary Poppins, to name a few.
In My Souvenir Things, Kevin B. McGlynn, as Mackintosh, opens a cape lined with stuffed animals and other tchotchkes, which he celebrates to the tune of My Favorite Things (It costs 100 dollars to get in the door, and 100 more to leave). In the same vein, Val Fagan does knockout Julie Andrews singing Feed the 'Burbs, a sizzling takedown of "vapid musical plays," a message Alessandrini has only intensified in recent years. It was interesting to see that kind of bite exerted at the Straz, where many of the lampooned musicals have been performed or soon will be.
A furious pace with lightning-quick costume adds to Forbidden Broadway's kick-in-the-pants mood. So, indispensably, does the humor. Some of the laughs come with a softer edge, such as a send-up of The Lion King emphasizing Julie Taymor's murderously uncomfortable headdresses; or Fagan's spot-on impersonation of Sarah Brightman, which pokes fun at the soprano's eardrum-splitting high notes. Others skits hit harder, including McGlynn and Staudenmayer as The Book of Mormon creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, preaching a formulaic "rebellion" while waving wads of cash.
Trisha Rapier also turns in stunning and hilarious work as Idina Menzel, Frankie Valli and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (I'm not gonna let Broadway rot/I love being the new big shot). And Staudenmayer delivers a marvelous, cocktail-sipping Robert Goulet, who can't remember which musical he's singing from but shrugs it all off because, hey, he's Goulet.
Meanwhile, Alessandrini's latest creation, Spamilton, opened off-Broadway in September at the Triad, site of the former Palsson's Supper Club. Originally scheduled to run seven weeks, the show has been extended through April 17.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.