(l to r) Jenny Lee Stern and Chris Collins-Pisano in ‘Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation.’
Broadway’s favorite satirist Gerard Alessandrini returns with another edition of Forbidden Broadway, the musical spoof of all things theater. Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation sticks true to form, poking fun at current shows with a few Hollywood hooks thrown in for good measure. Most of the jokes land, but for those who have been longtime fans of Alessandrini’s work, Broadway’s recent seasons require deeper mining for comedic gems.
The Next Generation provides a loose framework with “God, I Wanna See It” (a riff on A Chorus Line’s “God, I Hope I Get It” opening number), in which a family arrives in New York City with their shortlist of shows. Tony Award winner André De Shields (terrifically impersonated by Immanuel Houston) as Hermes from Hadestown arrives to guide them, but the convention quickly sidetracks to make room for the rapid-fire show rewrites.
The chameleon-like ensemble jumps through hoops, taking on the soulless Moulin Rude, the super-twitchy Evan Has-Been, and a medley of movie-to-musical mockeries, including Beetlejuice, Tootsie, and Frozen, in which Aline Mayagoitia as Elsa sings “Overblown!” instead of “Let it Go!”
Alessandrini smartly pulls from current pop culture hits with his take on Fosse/Verdon featuring Jenny Lee Stern as Gwen Verdon and Chris Collins-Pisano as Bob Fosse. Judy Garland, aka Renee Zellweger, makes an appearance, too, in a double-whammy impersonation by Stern. An original cast member of 2013’s Alive and Kicking edition, Stern delivers the most versatile and captivating vocal impersonations of the bunch, reminding longtime Forbidden Broadway fans of the phenomenal Christine Pedi.
The runaway Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof isn’t spared, with the musical’s monumental opening number, “Tradition,” becoming “Translation,” and a chuckle-worthy take on Kiss Me, Kate’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” becoming “Brush Up Your Yiddish.”
Recent plays including The Ferryman and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have their brief moments, but a Shuler Hensley impersonation (the actor went into the show as a replacement) is a referential stretch even for regular theatergoers.
Woke-lahoma! doesn’t shy away from the recent polarizing revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite, while The Prom aptly captures Casey Nicholaw’s high-octane dance moves thanks to choreographer Gerry McIntyre, who keeps the ensemble in top form throughout the evening.
A trifecta of divas, Bette Midler (Stern), Jennifer Holliday (Houston) and Bernadette Peters (Mayagoitia) wonder if “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” (Sweet Charity) and it’s in this moment that the Forbidden Broadway paradigm shift becomes evidently clear. When Alessandrini’s first edition opened in 1982, he had decades of source material to draw from. Over the years, favorites have been resurrected and reimagined as Broadway’s leading men and women have trod the boards. But those bigger-than-life performers like Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Liza Minelli are now few and far between.
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, though full of spot-on vocal impersonations, finds its footing in lighthearted cultural criticism. No longer are the names above the title a primary source of inspiration, but the titles themselves and how they resonate and reflect with today’s audiences.
Fortunately, as Mary Poppins (Stern) sings, Forbidden Broadway will always be “The Place Where The Lost Shows Go.” For Broadway fans old and new, getting lost in Alessandrini’s witty riffs is a treasure chest worth diving into.
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation
158 West 72nd Street
Through November 29
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. His culture writing has appeared in Dramatics Magazine and on TDF Stages and ShowTickets.com. Matthew is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a past fellowship recipient from The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.