On any given night, audiences often erupt into peals of laughter as a rambunctious foursome of singing, dancing actors mercilessly skewers Hollywood’s sacred cows and box office blockbusters, from “The Sound of Music” to “Forrest Gump.”
Indeed, “Forbidden Hollywood,” (from “Forbidden Broadway” creator/writer/director Gerard Alessandrini) a musical spoof of the movies, moviemaking and movie stars has been breaking box office records itself since its March 25 opening at the 270-seat Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood, where it’s set to run indefinitely.
A Windy City production of “Forbidden Hollywood” already opened Sept. 20 at the 400-seat Apollo Theater in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for an extended run.
Meanwhile, “Forbidden Hollywood” productions – all with the same direction, staging and 40 numbers – will appear by 1996 in Kansas City (in May), Phoenix (next summer), Detroit (the end of the year), as well as Toronto and Boston (dates pending).
Talks also are under way for productions in New York, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., as well as London, Tokyo and Sydney, Australia.
Plus, a “Forbidden Hollywood” touring production is being scheduled for late 1996.
“We’re overwhelmed by the number of people who have approached us from different cities about bringing productions there,” says John Freedson, one of three “Forbidden Hollywood” producers.
“We know that ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ would have an even wider appeal than ‘Forbidden Broadway,’ but we weren’t anticipating quite this many potential productions in our first year,” adds the New York-based composer/lyricist/singer, who has directed, produced and performed in “Forbidden Broadway” on tour throughout the past eight years.
Initially getting “Forbidden Broadway” all over urban and rural America was more difficult. “It was a challenge with ‘Forbidden Broadway’ to convince producers in other cities that the show was accessible to audiences who don’t attend theater regularly,” Freedson says, noting that the send-up of The Great White Way ultimately played 14 cities in the United States, plus London, Sydney and Tokyo. “But that was over a 12-year period.”
As to why so many cities are jumping to get their own “Forbidden Hollywood” productions Alessandrini explains, “Movies are such a common denominator.
“Everybody has the same point of reference for film as opposed to theater. We all see the same films at the same time, and we all grew up with the same films.”
Of course, says Alessandrini, “the track record of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ helps people understand what we’re doing with the movies – that it’s a satirical show.”
“A lot of cities are looking for small, upscale, relatively inexpensive shows to produce,” he adds, noting that it costs about $200,000 to mount a ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ show in a city, considerably less than a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or a ‘Miss Saigon.’ “
“Hopefully, they’re just as entertaining as a bigger show,” says Alessandrini, “but for the consumer, the ticket prices are generally half the price. We charge $35 and major Broadway shows charge $70. That’s more appealing to the general public.”
Make no mistake. “Forbidden Hollywood’s” creator is a diehard movie buff who says, “Just because I spoof them doesn’t mean I don’t love them.”
In fact, even Alessandrini’s favorite film of all time, the 1939 classic “Gone with the Wind,” isn’t immune from his barbs. His Rhett Butler impersonator calls it “a woman’s movie,” and an actor portraying Mammy storms out to protest racial stereo-typing.
Another “Forbidden Hollywood” number features a colorfully arrayed Aladdin and Jasmine prancing about onstage, warning about the Disneyization of America by crooning “A Disney World,” to the tune of “A Whole New World.”
Then, plastic-gun-toting actors impersonating “Pulp Fiction’s” John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson belt out “Make ‘Em Bleed,” a sardonic take-off of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” spotlighting the dollar value of violence on the silver screen.
According to Alessandrini, “Forbidden Hollywood” attempts to present “an overall view of movies in a frantic and comedic manner.
“You don’t necessarily have to see the movies to get the jokes,” adds the onetime waiter with a B.A. from the Boston Conservatory of Music, who has literally made a lucrative business out of bashing other’s creative works.
His parody of Broadway – which began on a whim to give the actorninger a talent showcase and a chance to find an agent – had a 12-year run off Broadway, becoming the Big Apple’s longest-running musical comedy revue and even drawing Broadway legends themselves.
In turning to Hollywood, the writer/director fulfilled a dream. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time,” says Alessandrini, who worked on these irreverent musical sketches for about four to five years. He finished the final piece, “Summer Movies” in July, and he plans to add new sketches periodically.
Ironically, given all of this sneering and jeering at Broadway and Hollywood, “Forbidden’s” creator is, in effect, becoming a part of the showbiz scene that he ridicules.
After all, as producer/director Freedson points out, Alessandrini initially mocked Broadway because “it felt forbidden to him.
“We can make fun of Hollywood, but there isn’t anything that we’d like better than to be part of it ourselves,” Freedson laughingly admits. “But until we can try it, we’ll knock it.”