One needn’t be a Broadway musical fanatic to enjoy Gerard Alessandrini’s immensely entertaining latest incarnation of “Forbidden Broadway,” but having a passing familiarity with such fare as “Annie,” “The Lion King,” Hal Prince’s “Show Boat,” “Cats,” “Rent,” “Ragtime,” etc., certainly doubles the pleasure. The ever witty and insightful Alessandrini masterfully skewers the habitues of the Great White Way, and his material is ably represented via the amazing talents of Susan Blakeslee, Jason Graae, Gerry McIntyre, Christine Pedi and pianist John Randall.
Now firmly established as a staple attraction in Gotham, this deceptively simple revue — constantly updated to reflect the most current absurdities to be filtered through Alessandrini’s jaundiced psyche — is returning to L.A. for the first time in six years. A properly irreverent tone for the evening is established as Gerry McIntyre’s opening number is interrupted by two cell phone-wielding audience members (Christine Pedi, Jason Graae), who launch into an impromptu critique of the performance, professing that “Everyone Thinks They’re a Critic” (to the tune of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”).
Alessandrini’s satirical bullets are unerring. Bewigged Pedi spotlights Andrea McArdle’s one-role “Annie” career, bemoaning, “I’m 30 years old, tomorrow.” As the title character, Graae sums up the ponderousness of “Martin Guerre” by proclaiming, “Martin Guerre! This show’s a mess, just like my hair.” Graae and Susanne Blakeslee, enshrined in Alvin Colt’s grotesquely overblown headdresses, then offer a hilarious lament on the immensely weighty costumes that have been thrust onto the ensemble members of “The Lion King” (“Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?”).
Three shows that are served up for particularly detailed lambasting are “Miss Saigon,” for its overly thunderous sound design and its simplistic lyrics (“Roses are red and violets are blue, that’s as deep as we get to”); “Ragtime” (“the people call it ‘Gagtime’ “); and “Les Miserables,” featuring a scintillating chanteuse turn by Pedi (to the tune of “C’est Magnifique”).
Choreographer Phillip George’s efforts prove an excellent complement to Alessandrini’s wit as he offers dead-on parodies of Bob Fosse’s signature dance work in “Chicago” and a hilariously inventive union of “Cats” and “A Chorus Line.” George then takes on Matthew Bourne’s all-male “Swan Lake,” made memorable by the bitchy antics of Graae and McIntyre. George’s highlight effort, however, is his all-German salute, incorporating Alan Cumming’s debauched Emcee (Graae) from the 1998 revival of “Cabaret” into the saccharine “So Long, Farewell” finale of “Sound of Music,” featuring Blakeslee, Pedi and McIntyre.
The individual talents of this fine ensemble are truly showcased in their rip-roaring impersonations of some monumental Broadway icons. Pedi captures the gravel-voiced persona of Elaine Stritch lamenting her lost career (to the tune of Rodgers and Hart’s “Zip”) and the reedy rapture of Carol Channing, thanking “Dolly” for being a “Girl’s Best Friend.” Blakeslee is dead-on as fragile-voiced Sarah Brightman and in tribute to Barbra Streisand’s monumentally self-indulgent “Back to Broadway” album.
Bradley Kaye’s simple cabaret revue setting, sequined curtains and all, provides a perfect backdrop for Alessandrini’s inspired shenanigans.