Anybody who got through this Broadway theater season alive deserves to see “Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!” — the latest edition of the irreverent satirical revue that has no scruples and knows no shame. Forget the Tony nominations. Gerard Alessandrini and his clever cohorts have come up with winners in their own special categories of Most Pretentious, Most Ridiculous, Most Expensive, Most Cynical, Most Derivative, and, in their inspired salute to the show they call “More Miserable,” (The World’s) Most Miserable Musical.
Making a showy entrance in boxing gloves, the amazingly versatile cast of four, under the pitiless direction of Phillip George and Alessandrini, announce their intention of taking a roundhouse swing at all the big shows that opened this season, from “Aladdin” to “Rocky,” while saving a few punches for past favorites like “Pippin” and “The Book of Morons.”
Alessandrini isn’t above singling out individual performers for roasting. Marcus Stevens has mastered every one of “Super-Frantic-Hyperactive-Self-Indulgent” Mandy Patinkin’s grandiose gestures and breath-defying vocal mannerisms in “Hava Nagila.” Mia Gentile assumes the combative pose of a Wagnerian Rhine Maiden to stick it to Idina Mendel (“I am the Queen at last / Streisand is in the past”) in “Let It Blow.” And an unkindly bewigged Carter Calvert makes mincemeat of country singer Carrie Underwood’s thickly accented governess in “The Sound of Music.”
As expected, Michelle Williams’s Sally Bowles (Gentile) gets her knocks in the parody of “Cabaret.” But the return of Liza Minnelli (a terrific Calvert) in the role of Frau Schneider is both totally unexpected and totally wonderful.
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And then there are the one-liners that draw blood throughout the show.
“Creepy, it’s getting creepy,” a perky Theresa Brewer (Gentile) sings in a Juke Box Medley about the “house of wax” that Broadway has become in its calculated courting of the tourist dollar.
“Yes, we have no composers! Composers just get in the way,” sing Woody Allen (Marcus Stevens) and Susan Stroman (Carter Calvert) of their original-score-free musical, “Bullets Over Broadway.”
“I got damage to do / Just for you,” pipes up pumped-up Patina Miller (Gentile), in “Pippin.” “I got vocal parts / To rephrase / I got songs to perform / All lukewarm.”
But the most inventive numbers are carefully constructed set pieces like the cutting send-up of “The Bridges of Madison County.” This extended scene is introduced by a leering Marcus Stevens as self-infatuated Jason Robert Brown (“whatever I do is genius”), celebrating his fourth musical about adultery. Kelli O’Hara’s sex-starved Francesca (Calvert) struggles to tear off her clothes while hanging onto her slippery Italian accent and frantically grabbing at Steven Pasquale’s piping-hot Robert (Scott Richard Foster). “You and I get one quick sex scene,” Francesca wails, as the lovers roll around and around and around the stage, “and a million songs to sing.”
There is always a point to the satire, which is why we always come back for more. “Rocky” is about the triumph of technology over song, content, and sense. “Aladdin” is about the endless flow of cash from the Disney cornucopia. “Book of Mormon” is about the cynicism of vulgar schoolboy humor. “Cabaret” is about the impossibility of making money on any show but a tried-and-true revival. And the chilling final number, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” is a view of Broadway caught in the act of selling its soul.