It’s take-down time again. Just as the Tony Awards provide Broadway with an occasion to puff up and preen in celebration of its achievements each season, Gerard Alessandrini’s long-running satirical revue “Forbidden Broadway” is back on cue to bitch-slap those over-inflated Rialto residents back down to size. The show’s 25th anniversary edition, drolly titled “Rude Awakening,” still packs plenty of bite in its far-from-benevolent spoofery, delivered as always by a cast of four performers as tireless as they are versatile.
For years now Alessandrini’s prime target has been the endless, unimaginative recycling of a diminishing pool of ideas that chips away at the integrity of musical theater.
Ironically, “Forbidden Broadway” could also be charged with returning repeatedly to the same well. But the steady supply of new source material each season, plus the sharp balance of straight-up comic skewering with cruelly critical insider observations has managed to keep the series fresh. Mostly.
Without Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh to beat up, “Forbidden Broadway” would be unimaginable, but Disney has long since usurped the role of Alessandrini’s chief punching bag.
The Mouse machine gets it in the neck here first via Valerie Fagan, wincing at the sugar rush of “Mary Poppins” while singing “Stupid-Careless-Fictional-Nonsensical-Verboseness” (no prizes for guessing the tune). Later, Alessandrini weighs in early on the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” by having the priceless Janet Dickinson flop about in a tail while bemoaning the way it inhibits her Fosse moves. “It’s such a shame/Broadway became/Part Disney World,” sings Dickinson — to “Part of Your World,” naturally.
The transformation of Broadway into a corporate theme park; the preponderance of film properties retooled as by-the-numbers tuners; the merchandizing; the swift exit of ambitious, complex shows like “Grey Gardens” to make way for more simple-minded froth; the over-reliance on electronic enhancement over natural amplification; and the rampant construction threatening to transform Hell’s Kitchen and the Theater District into interchangeable blocks — all are on the “Forbidden Broadway” firing line.
Best of the entirely new material is a brilliant take on last season’s “Company” revival and on director John Doyle’s trademark actors-as-orchestra concept, complete with tuneless blasts of brass. That title number with the full cast then segues into a viciously funny recap of “Company” star Raul Esparza’s entire stage career, with the hilarious James Donegan banging away at the piano while cranking up his tortured vibrato to convulsive heights in “Being Intense.”
David Hyde Pierce also cops it, courtesy of Jared Bradshaw, with “Slow People,” a clever riff on a number from “Curtains” that takes aim at undiscriminating audiences happy to applaud any face familiar from TV.
The sketches register more hits than misses, but among the latter are half-cooked digs at “Jersey Boys” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” While it starts out amusingly, with Donegan doing a wickedly earnest Brian F. O’Byrne in “The Coast of Utopia” (“I live with my wife, my two children, and my perfect theatrical diction”), a number that pits that highbrow hit against “glitzy hash” like “Xanadu,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Grease” (by far the season’s ripest target) is among the more pedestrian vignettes.
Likewise “You Can’t Stop the Camp,” which folds the “Hairspray” movie and “Legally Blonde” into a lame number about screen-stage traffic that feels stale despite a couple of good jokes at the expense of Kevin Spacey and “The Pirate Queen.”
Of course, as the title suggests, “Spring Awakening” gets the most irreverent treatment. The Tony-winning show is the subject of an opening seg in which Fagan explores her burgeoning sexuality to the horror of two outraged Broadway patrons. Later, angst anthem “Totally Fucked” gets reworked into a clever reflection on whether the risque material will play the heartland. Alessandrini and co-director Phillip George’s aping of Bill T. Jones’ semaphoric choreography is funny stuff, but Dickinson’s spoofing of “Spring” star Christine Estabrook’s already-caricatured performance is even funnier.
Among previously seen material, a bit based on “Monty Python’s Spamalot” deserves its ongoing place because it reclaims an extended joke stolen by Eric Idle from “Forbidden Broadway.”
But the indisputable highlight is the cast’s gut-busting capsule rendition of the “Les Miserables” revival, including “On My Phone,” with Fagan as a bored Eponine killing time behind the barricades with her iPhone while waiting to be shot. The delirious turntable action from a cast of living dead, condemned to spend eternity in an embalmed British ’80s import, showcases Alessandrini’s indestructible comic broadside with all guns blazing.