At the end of “Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back!” the four-member cast reprises a number from “The King and I” reminding us that we endure all the mediocrity that Broadway throws our way because eventually we’ll be rewarded with “something wonderful.” Until that next magic moment arrives along the Great White Way, we can rejoice in the wonderfulness of “Forbidden Broadway” itself. The latest edition of Gerard Alessandrini’s satiric revue is one of the best, if not the best, since the first edition 15 years ago. In large part this is due to the bus-and-truckload of fresh meat available to Alessandrini in the slew of new hits and disasters that have come to Broadway (“Rent,” “The King & I,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Show Boat”) and gone (“Big”) while he was taking on the movies in his “Forbidden Hollywood.” Not content merely to slice and dice the current crop of Broadway shows, Alessandrini also casts a mocking glance forward to the future openings of “Chicago” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”
As with past editions, the show provides one hilarious send-up after another: “Show Boat” becomes “Slow Boat” for having retained every single moment from the original show; Donna Murphy gets kidded for having darkened her performance as Anna in “The King and I” with shadings from her role in Sondheim’s “Passion”; Patti LuPone is allowed to avenge herself on Andrew Lloyd Webber for dropping her from “Sunset Boulevard”; Julie Andrews dishes it out to the Tony committee for ignoring “Victor/Victoria”; and we find out that Daphne Rubin-Vega is howling in “Rent” because her vinyl pants are too, too tight.
But emerging through the humor seems to be an angrier tone than can be recalled from previous incarnations of the show. One senses a growing intolerance in Alessandrini of producers who’ll do anything for a buck; singers who can’t be heard past the first row without a microphone; and audiences willing to pay more and more for less and less.
His put-down of the Disney-fication of Broadway offers a summation, with broader connotations, that “What turns the Great White Way on/Is a show that’s drawn in crayon.” The “Something Wonderful” ending appears, in retrospect, to be Alessandrini’s way of reviving his own spirits after having vented his frustration.
Reviving everyone’s spirits are the marvelous performances of the current cast. Especially fine vocal moments include Christine Pedi’s imitation of the gravel-voiced Elaine Stritch; Bryan Batt’s far-ranging Mandy Patinkin; David Hibbard’s uncanny take on “Rent” star Anthony Rapp; and Donna English’s dead-on Julie Andrews. The ensemble shows off its collective ability to rock out in the multi-number spoof of “Rent” that closes the show.
Providing steady accompaniment is musical director Matthew Ward. Major contributions to the evening’s pleasure are made by costume designer Alvin Colt and wig designer Robert Fama. The breezy sets are by Bradley Kaye.