NEW YORK—After an absence of three years, the satirical revue “Forbidden Broadway” is returning with a new show, “Alive and Kicking.” With an eager eye toward its opening date of Sept. 6, the show marks the revue’s 30th anniversary as well as its 21st production, with performances at New York City’s 47th Street Theatre.
First begun in 1982 as the brainchild of Gerard Alessandrini, the show’s creator and writer (who shares the directing chores this time out with Phillip George), “Forbidden Broadway” takes gleeful aim at theater’s sacred cows, oversized personalities, and the latest hits and flops on the Great White Way.
With a combination of gentle satire and pointed skewering, “Forbidden Broadway” has taken on everything from Madonna when she appeared on Broadway in “Speed-The-Plow” in 1988, to actor Anthony Quinn, who due to an award ballot mix-up, made a verbal faux pas at the Tony Awards one year.
Whenever possible, “Forbidden Broadway” uses actual music from the shows in question, while altering the lyrics (courtesy of Alessandrini) to get the point across. This technique has worked quite well in the past with such shows as “Les Miserables” (“at the end of the play you’re another year older”) or for out of work actresses who haven’t had a job since playing the lead in “Annie” when they were kids (“I’m thirty years old, tomorrow”).
One of the unique things about “Forbidden Broadway,” as the show’s musical director David Caldwell explained, is that unlike other shows, which are basically frozen creatively once they open, “Forbidden Broadway” is always in a state of flux.
“We often have to cycle songs in and out as the shows we parody open and close. So ‘Forbidden Broadway’ is constantly changing, which keeps me on my toes,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell’s duties for the production include researching and arranging the music, tracking down scores for the songs they parody, and then customizing “the vocal and piano arrangements to suit our tiny cast.”
In cases where the original material is not available, Caldwell then has “the interesting task of composing alternate music to sound as close as possible to those original songs without borrowing any of their tunes.”
With a four-person cast (Natalie Charlé Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Jenny Lee Stern, and Marcus Stevens), “Alive and Kicking” marks the fifth “Forbidden Broadway” show Caldwell has worked on in New York. He has also contributed to the road version of the show, “which is pretty much a Greatest Hits version” of past productions.
While “Alive and Kicking” is set to contain songs and scenes based on many of the shows that have appeared since the last incarnation of “Forbidden Broadway” (that is, “Porgy and Bess,” “Once,” “Evita,” “Anything Goes,” “Follies,” “Spiderman,” “Newsies,” “Book of Mormon,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” and “Death of a Salesman”), some older shows will receive their share of slings, arrows, and verbal brickbats.
As Caldwell explained, “At the moment, we have a few songs from previous editions: ‘Jersey Boys,’ ‘Wicked,’ ‘Mary Poppins,’ etc. Sometimes we cut to make room for new material, but they continue to be very popular with audiences.”
When asked if he had any particular favorite memory during his “Forbidden Broadway” tenure, Caldwell recalled “Forbidden Broadway: Back in Rehab.” He said, “We recreated the finale of ‘Sunday in the Park with George,’ … one of my favorite pieces of music, and one that was especially difficult to replicate with our tiny group. We sweetened the choral sound with a recording of our actors, to make a larger ensemble sound. It was wonderful to feel that we had done justice to the song.”
“Sunday” has music and lyrics by composer Stephen Sondheim, a frequent target in the various “Forbidden Broadway” shows and who, Caldwell says, once told Alessandrini he wished “he would be meaner to him.”
Because of its source material, “Forbidden Broadway” is a must-see for faithful theater audiences, as well as a source of pride for theater insiders mentioned in the shows, including those who work behind the footlights.
However, that connection should not deter people who have only a passing interest in the genre, for as long as they like a good laugh and an amusing song, they should be right at home. With “Forbidden Broadway,” Caldwell notes, “I hope [the audience’s] affection for the theater will be strengthened. If they haven’t seen shows on Broadway, I hope we can steer them in that direction.”
More information can be found at www.forbiddenbroadway.com.
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.
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