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The National Tour of Forbidden Broadway: 20th Anniversary Celebration, produced by John Freedson and Harriet Yellin and presented Jan. 14-19 by Off-Broadway Series South, is the latest no-holds-barred edition of actor/playwright Gerard Alessandrini's scathing satire of big Broadway hits and big Broadway stars. No sacred cow goes ungored in this superlative 97-minute satirical revue.
For the past two decades, various versions of Forbidden Broadway have been a big pain in the posterior to the denizens of the Great White Way, and a regular source of amusement for theater-goers in New York and everywhere the National Tours of Forbidden Broadway have played. Rarely has American musical theater been so mercilessly ridiculed, and rarely has such ridicule been right on target.
Originally conceived and performed by then-fresh out of college and unemployed actor Gerard Alessandrini as a showcase for his acting and writing talents, Forbidden Broadway debuted in January 1982 at Palsson's Supper Club on New York's Upper West Side. Wowing the audiences and critics alike — and even wowing the targets of his satire — this splendid satirical revue earned a shelf-load of Obie, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards over the years as it moved from performance space to performance space and ultimately took the show on the road.
"When 'Forbidden Broadway,' the revue that extols and lambastes the Fabulous Invalid called Broadway, approached its 20th anniversary this year, I thought, 'How wonderful,'" wrote Gerard Alessandrini in The New York Times on March 10, 2002. "Not entirely because, as the show's writer and co-director, I had a job in theater that had entered its third decade, but because I also thought: 'Oh, good! I can do a retrospective and I won't have to write anything new. I'll pick a few favorites from my catalog of 450 parodies and then go off to Hawaii and listen to the new CD of 'Subways Are for Sleeping.'"
Alessandrini quickly added: "I couldn't have been more wrong because, in a reversal of the adage, 'the more Broadway stays the same, the more it changes.' Even old-favorite parodies seemed different and more touching when put in the context of corporate Broadway triumphs like 'Aida' and '42nd Street.' Parodies of shows like 'Les Misérables' looked wittier and even darker when contrasted with upbeat blockbusters like 'The Producers' and 'Mamma Mia!'
"So not only did I need to attack these new megahits," he wrote. "I also needed to update and rethink some of the older 'best of' numbers. I soon found myself furiously rewriting old parodies of Yul Brynner in 'The King and I' and Betty Buckley in 'Cats' as well as creating new spoofs of 'The Full Monty' and 'Urinetown.' I probably ended up writing and adding as many new numbers for this anniversary show, which began performances on Feb. 25  at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater, as for any new edition."
Besides the blockbuster musicals mentioned above, Forbidden Broadway: 20th Anniversary Celebration gleefully skewers Aida, Beauty and the Beast, Cabaret, Chicago, Contact, Into the Woods, The Lion King, Miss Saigon, Oklahoma!, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Then the Forbidden Broadway troupe ruthlessly parodies the on-stage performances — and the offstage shenanigans — of such leading lights of the American musical theater as Julie Andrews, Sarah Brightman, Matthew Broderick, Elton John, Nathan Lane, Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, and Elaine Stritch. Gerard Alessandrini takes no prisoners in this sidesplitting satire of all things theatrical.
"'Forbidden Broadway' is better value than anything on Broadway,'" claims John Heilpern of The New York Observer. "I once compared it to the Chrysler Building, but that doesn't quite do it. Let's just say it's even funnier than 'The Producers,' and marginally less literate than Shakespeare."
Entertainment Weekly's Melisssa Rose Bernardo asks: "Where can you find Bea Arthur and Elaine Stritch dueting? Stephen Sondheim conducting a sing-along? Mel Brooks starring in 'The Producers'? Only in 'Forbidden Broadway,' the irreverent, ever-morphing parody now turning 20."
Off-Broadway Series South presents Forbidden Broadway: 20th Anniversary Celebration Tuesday-Friday, Jan 14-17, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 18, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 19, at 2 and 7 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $31-$43. 919/834-4000 or 919/231-4575 (discounts for groups of 20 or more). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/offbroadway.html#fb [inactive 4/04] or http://www.forbiddenbroadway.com/ [inactive 1/04].