“Everything About it Is Appealing”
Shout hallelujah, come on get happy! Judgment day has come again, judgment, that is, of the flops and fads, the hambones and hits, the artists and aspirants that contribute to the continuing survival of the Fabulous Invalid, down one minute and up the next.
It’s been five and a half years since the last edition of Gerard Alessandrini’s Forbidden Broadway series, born 38 years ago and still finding furiously funny ways to burlesque, spoof, parody, and otherwise make digestible mincemeat of the American musical theatre, with enough room left to grind up a choice movie, TV show, or straight play.
|Aline Mayagoitia, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Jenny Lee Stern, Joshua Turchin. All photos: Carol Rosegg.|
|Fred Barton, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Aline Mayagoitia, Jenny Lee Stern.|
As per the formula, the songs—accompanied by the sensational piano playing of Fred Barton, seated upstage—are both vintage and recent, using Alessandrini’s consistently clever lyrics to poke fun at productions, performers, practices, and pretensions.
It all begins with Immanuel Houston singing the original Forbidden Broadway song about the Great White Way only for him to be interrupted by an annoying family of out-of-towners checking out the theatres and shows. This segues into “God, I Wanna See it 2019,” based on the opening number from A Chorus Line, riffing on hit shows and major venues they want to see, with nods to Broadway sights like the Naked Cowboy and all the Elmos. Word bombs drop (Sara Bareillis, creator of Waitress, is “the queen of pop shlock”) and coming shows, like Six are hinted at.
Then, in “Forbidden Hadestown,” Houston assumes the guise of Hadestown’s André de Shields to guide the group through the theatrical hellscape aboard his train, even magically inserting the family into the shows he introduces.
|Fred Barton, Joshua Turchin, Jenny Lee Stern, Chris Collins-Pisano.|
Soon Moulin Rouge (“Follies without a soul”) is getting knocked around in “Moulin Rude” because of how much cash its “visual overload” cost. The voluptuous Aline Mayogoitia channels Karen Olivo as she slithers through “Diamonds Out My Wazzoo,” inspired by “Diamonds are Forever.” The company responds with a number based on “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” tossing darts at a certain musical trend, represented by Moulin Rouge’s 76 pop songs, with lines like “A juke box is a star’s best friend.”
Dear Evan Hansen gets the Forbidden treatment in “Evan Has-Been,” with multiply talented 13-year-old (!) Joshua Turchin doing the honors as an overacting “replacement Evan Hansen” (“Depending on my cuteness, I’m as precious as can be, Is everyone in love with me?”).
|Jenny Lee Stern, Fred Barton, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston.|
A Wheel of Fortune, with show titles on it, sparks a sequence called “Everything’s Got to Be a Musical,” beginning with an original pastiche song about musicals based on familiar classics (“Ev’ry movie or novel or cartoon or epic must be resurrected”). Thus arise numbers reminding us of Beetlejuice, featuring Chris Collins-Pisano as Alex Brightman; Tootsie, with Turchin in drag doing Santino Fontana; and Frozen, with the ice princess taken by Mayagoitia.
|Chris Collins-Pisano, Jenny Lee Stern.|
Here the show shifts to the TV miniseries, “Fosse/Verdon,” highlighting the love/hate relationship of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon as portrayed by Collins-Pisano and Jenny Lee Stern, replete with a virtual encyclopedia of Fosse moves. Meanwhile, they sing and dance to “Whatever Fosse wants, Fosse gets,” before shifting to “Two lost stars, From the old golden age” (no need to cite the originals, right?).
|Jenny Lee Stern, Chris Collins-Pisano.|
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations gets a big number when Houston sings about star Jeremy Pope while the show itself is spiked with cracks like “Ain’t Too Proud is Jersey Boys with much less gumba,” and director Des McAnuff is ticketed for begging, borrowing, and stealing from his own shows.
|Fred Barton, Jenny Lee Stern.|
Those, like me, who think Renée Zellweger’s Judy Garland in the movie Judy deserved a Golden Raspberry rather than a SAG Award will thrill to Stern’s show-stopping rendition of Garland zinging her cinema avatar with “Zellweger smells in my part,” set to the music of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” (Note to my RZ-hating FB friend, DM: are you satisfied now?)
|Immanuel Houston, Chris Collins-Pisano, Fred Barton.|
Even the venerable, venerated Fiddler on the Roof, whose production in Yiddish became a surprise Off-Broadway hit, gets its strings risibly plucked in “Translation,” based on “Tradition,” after which we hear the admonition, “Brush up your Yiddish,” as a recipe for theatrical success.
|Jenny Lee Stern, Aline Mayagoita, Chris Collins-Pisano, Joshua Turchin, Immanuel Houston.|
|Joshua Turchin, Fred Barton, Jenny Lee Stern, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Aline Mayagoitia.|
Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman ferries away from musical theatre to ask, to the tune of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” “How are things in Irish drama, Can we see Martin McDonagh there?” Another routine offers Billy Porter (Houston) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Collins-Pisano), title-dropping Freestyle Love Supreme, Kinky Boots, and the like to point out, to the tune of Gypsy’s “Rose’s Turn,” how “everything is now inclusive” in the theatre.
|Immanuel Houston, Chris Collins-Pisano.|
Stern, as Mary Poppins, informs us “Where the Lost Shows Go” (set to Mary Poppins’s “The Place Where Lost Things Go”); Turchin and Collins-Pisano use the music of “Bibbiddi-Bobbiddi-Boo” from Disney’s Cinderella and “Magic to Do” from Pippin to satirize Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; and a standout section, “There’s Gotta Be Something For Us to Do,” earned my vote as best of the best. In it, Stern as Bette Midler, Mayagoitia as Bernadette Peters, and Houston as Jennifer Hudson contemplate parts they’d like to play to the music of Sweet Charity’s “There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This.”
|Fred Barton, Immanuel Houston, Jenny Lee Stern, Aline Mayagoitia.|
|Fred Barton, Joshua Turchin, Jenny Lee Stern, Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston, Aline Mayagoitia.|
Daniel Fish’s revisionist staging of Oklahoma!, and others like it get a much-deserved thrashing in “Woke-lahoma!” before the revue returns to André de Shields complaining of too many shows being “processed like Velveeta cheese.” This cues a routine based on The Prom, pondering the question of the best way to end a show.
|Fred Barton, Chris Collins-Pisano, Jenny Lee Stern, Aline Mayagoitia.|
|Immanuel Mayagoitia, Chris Collins-Pisano, Fred Barton, Aline Mayagoitia, Jenny Lee Stern, Joshua Turchin.|
Before the curtain calls, we hear words of optimism about the next generation from the late director Harold Prince (Houston) and listen to the inspirational strains of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” cautioning us to be careful about what we say if we ever want to “work again.”
|Aline Mayagoitia, Fred Barton, Immanuel Houston, Chris Collins-Pisano, Jenny Lee Stern, Joshua Turchin.|
Chris Steckel’s lighting, Dustin Cross’s costumes, Conor Donnelly’s wigs, and Julian Evans’s sound couldn’t be better, nor, for this material, could Gerry McIntyre’s tongue-in-cheek choreography or the inventive direction of Alessandrini be any better. Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation ranges on the humor scale from smiles to chuckles to laughs to guffaws. Its humor may be cutting, but why else would it be forbidden?
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Ave., NYC
Through February 16