Broadway lags behind Hollywood when it comes to capitalizing on self-mockery. While today’s blockbuster films are immediately parodied with celebrity look-alikes and bathroom humor, Broadway has only recently grown keen to laugh at itself and its big-selling shows. But Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway” has had no issue with satirizing blockbuster musicals since 1982, proving that low budget doesn’t have to equal lowbrow.
“Forbidden Broadway” is the standard insider spoof of classic-to-contemporary Broadway musicals set as a Vaudevillestyle variety show. Alessandrini doesn’t waste time with a plot, and instead goes straight for comic impersonations and rewritten lyrics to popular songs. The major pitfall for this type of show is that it can only be as strong as the actors’ ability to impersonate. The show never gets stuck in a rut but, like driving in Lansing, it can’t avoid all the potholes, which can make for a bumpy ride.
Ellen Campbell, Marc Moritz, Janine Novenske Smith, Paul Riopelle and Emily Sutton-Smith fill a wide range of caricatures throughout the show, ranging from Liza Minnelli to Robert Goulet.Some of the songs parody well-known characters, like a 30-year-old Annie, while others mock famous actors, such as Carol Channing and Barbara Streisand. Some jokes rely heavily on the audience’s inside knowledge of a particular musical, the point of which is practically assumed in the title, but it also hushes the room on more than one occasion.
Campbell and Riopelle prove to be the most adept at hammering the ham and skewering the meat, even when it gets thin. Campbell’s impersonation of the aged Channing and “One Note Liza” are highlights, as well is Riopelle’s drunken Goulet, despite going for the easy laughs. Novenske Smith, Sutton-Smith and Moritz also have their moments, but never to the same extent and consistency.
On Saturday, there were two songs during which no one in the audience laughed. Instead of the giant cane whisking the actor off-stage or the actor even acknowledging the lack of audience response with an improvised remark, the song went on, and the audience gritted its teeth in hopes that the following number would improve.
Chad Badgero fulfills his basic requirements as a director, but there
is not much for him to do. With no story apart from mini-narratives
referenced in each song, Badgero only needs to ensure that the actors
don’t miss any obvious laughs.
Musical director John Dale
Smith keeps the music pumping from the piano reliably. The stage is by
far the barest BoarsHead has ever concocted, consisting of a riser with
stairs, all completely in black. The costumes often look cheap, but
again, it’s intended.
In many ways, a show like “Forbidden
Broadway” feels out of place in a small, Midwest theater, particularly
at BoarsHead. Its intended audience is seasoned Broadway lovers, but
more specifically, the ones that live in Manhattan. It doesn’t have any
aspirations of greatness, nor should any one expect it to. While this
critic finds the show more akin to a bargain bin parody than a real
satire of Broadway, Saturday’s audience appeared to enjoy most of the
production, and if you are a Broadway buff, you may also.
April 4 7 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2
p.m. Sunday BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing $17-$35 (517)