Sunday, September 24, 2000

Give their remarks to 'Broadway'

Production pokes fun at theater's timeworn tunes

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Give 'em the Old Razzle-Dazzle” is a big number from Chicago. You'll see it re-created, sort of, in Forbidden Broadway. Here it's called “Give 'em the Old Glossy Fosse.”

        Forbidden Broadway, now in its 18th year spoofing the big names of the Great White Way, tours to Cincinnati for the first time with a “greatest hits” edition as part of the Downtown Theatre Classics season in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center.

    What: Forbidden Broadway
    When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Previews, Tuesday-Thursday; show runs Friday through Oct. 15.
    Where: Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts.
    Tickets: $10-$35. 241-7469.

        Those greatest hits will include send-ups of Broadway Series staples Cats, Les Miz and Phantom of the Opera, along with other big names like Cabaret and Annie.

        “We want people to get the joke,” says producer John Freedson. “These shows are in the collective consciousness.”

        From a creative standpoint, the fact that so many shows have run for more than a decade on Broadway and so many more are revivals “is good and bad,” says Mr. Freedson. “It's good because they're all recognizable to the casual theatergoer, but personally it makes all of us (the revue's creative team) sad.

        “We all came to New York at about the same time, and the energy of musical theater was amazing, with people like Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line), Harold Prince (many Stephen Sondheim shows) and Bob Fosse doing their best work.

        “It was sad to watch many of those people die and nobody of any particular merit replace them.”

Born of frustration

        Forbidden Broadway was born in 1982, when aspiring actor and part-time waiter Gerard Alessandrini “was going to auditions all the time and not getting hired. Broadway was forbidden to him,” explains Mr. Freedson.

        As legend has it, Mr. Alessandrini, who had a talent for satire, found his true calling one night when he went to see Lauren Bacall in the deservedly long-forgotten Woman of the Year. He wrote a take-off of one of the songs (his version was “I'm One of the Girls Who Sings Like a Boy”) on a napkin.

        Everybody who read it loved it. He wrote more. When he had enough for a show, he and his friends couldn't find a producer, but they did persuade an Upper West Side club to let them put on the revue on Monday nights.

        Critic Rex Reed wandered in and the next day called it the funniest show in town. Broadway stars started showing up to see themselves parodied.

        Mr. Alessandrini turned out to have a deep well of talent; Forbidden Broadway 2001: A Spoof Odyssey is in previews. The new show includes current hits Kiss Me Kate and The Music Man.

Smart satire

        One of the things that has given Forbidden Broadway, which runs eight performances a week off-Broadway, its staying power is that it isn't just clever, it's smart.

        Mr. Alessandrini has a gift for hitting shows where they are most vulnerable — he belts “Les Miz” right in the barricades, with a turntable routine so funny that it can leave you wiping your eyes and gasping for breath.

        Mr. Alessandrini does not pull his punches. He respects talent and mercilessly skewers the pompous and untalented. Andrew Lloyd Webber has been a favorite target. “The British musicals are so ripe for parody,” Mr. Freedson observes agreeably. “They take themselves so seriously.”

        Mr. Sondheim, on the other hand, rarely is subjected to anything but the lightest spoofing. Mr. Freedson laughs, “Sondheim sent Gerard an advance copy of the title song of Into the Woods to give him time to work up a parody. He said in his note, "Make it mean!' ” Mr. Alessandrini didn't.
30 years of 'Fosse'
- Give their remarks to 'Broadway'

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