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Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - January 20, 2020

Fred Barton (piano), Joshua Turchin, Jenny Lee Stern,
Chris Collins-Pisano, Immanuel Houston,
and Aline Mayagoitia

Photo by Carol Rosegg
A New York with a Forbidden Broadway in it is always a happier place. And the franchise's latest incarnation, Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, currently occupying the York, is a pip.

This is essentially the same Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation that occupied the Triad a couple of months ago, except this one's in comfier surroundings and minus the two-drink minimum. Gerard Alessandrini, founder of the franchise almost 40 years ago and its director, has as many good ideas as ever on how to mock current and past Broadway musicals, and, in an instance or two, non-musicals. It's a ripe satirical climate right now. And the cast is more than up to the formidable Forbidden Broadway standard.

It's the Next Generation in senses both figurative—the next generation of shows, performers to spoof, trends—and literal: One cast member, Joshua Turchin, is 13, already a produced librettist-composer-lyricist and as merciless as the other talented four (with Fred Barton at the piano, an invaluable Forbidden Broadway fixture) in his musical parody proficiency. "I'm Evan Has-Been," he intones in a clear 13-year-old voice, capturing all the audience-baiting neurotic tics that have endeared Evan Hansens past to gullible crowds. He's also a fetching Santino Fontana, in a spangly red dress (Dustin Cross's costumes, while perhaps not as resourceful as the Alvin Colts of yore, are conceived and executed with fine satirical elan)—this while the cast warns him, "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, you're hexed/ Mrs. Doubtfire's next."

Boy, do they work hard. Jenny Lee Stern has to be Gwen Verdon, Bette Midler, Mary Testa, Fionnula Flanagan in The Ferryman, Judy Garland as Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, several other stars, and chorus. Immanuel Houston, at the outset an elegant André De Shields (the Hadestown spoof misses a couple of targets), is also an uncanny Jennifer Holliday, thanks both to his abundant gift for vocal parody and Conor Donnelly's eerily accurate wig design. No Forbidden Broadway I've ever seen has failed to mock Bernadette Peters; the current mocker, Aline Mayagoitia, is one of the best (and gets another great wig). And Chris Collins-Pisano, while not quite on the nose as Bob Fosse or Hal Prince, is more Lin-Manuel than Lin-Manuel, not to mention the incarnation of everything that's annoying about Alex Brightman in Beetlejuice.

There's a lot to spoof out there right now—so much that Alessandrini may have even neglected a target or two. The epidemic of musicals about angsty teens is alluded to in the Evan Hansen turn but not given a number of its own; there's no Mean Girls and only quick mentions of The Lightning Thief and Be More Chill. And surely Come from Away deserves more derision than the brief razzing it gets here. On the other hand, a very unexpected target lands brilliantly—flop musicals of the past, with Stern's Emily-Blunt-as-Mary-Poppins leading her charges on a tour of "The Place Where the Lost Shows Go": "Pipe Dream on LP/ Still sounds pretty good/ They play it at the Actors' Home in Englewood."

Chris Collins-Pisano and Jenny Lee Stern
Photo by Carol Rosegg
There's a lot of choice material, and surely nothing tops Woke-lahoma!, Alessandrini's necessary skewering of trendy directors who put such strong personal stamps on classic titles as to pervert and distort them. One can only imagine what he's going to do about Ivo van Hove. "That gun on the wall shot an elephant's eye," warbles Curly, "and it looks like Ted Chapin is going to cry." (That's another strength of the franchise: It isn't afraid to name names that not everybody will recognize.) Mayagoitia is a surly Laurey, the Jud-Curly-scene-in-utter-darkness gets whipped, Stern as "Aunt Testa" spouts tired homespun aphorisms, Gerry McIntyre's choreography gets the stylized movements right (and also puts Collins-Pisano's Fosse and Stern's Verdon through some dicey moves), and the cast merrily replaces the famous "Okla... homa!" vocal arrangement with "We're so... angry!" The funny thing is, the night I saw Daniel Fish's Oklahoma! at Circle in the Square, I ran into Alessandrini at intermission, and he was loving it. Maybe that crypto-gymnastic ballet at the top of the second act finally pushed him over the edge. Or maybe his powers of satirical mastery are such that he can make devastating fun even of stuff he likes.

One complaint: The actors and piano are over-miked, with Julian Evans' sound design falling to the same amplify-everything sickness as the objects of the satire. Outside of that, this is as delightful an 85 minutes as you'll find anywhere in town, and graced with a cast that likely includes stars of tomorrow to be parodied in subsequent Forbidden Broadways. The franchise has always faced the challenge of being funny to audiences who both have and haven't seen the objects of its satire. This one manages that, though the more in the know you are, the funnier it is. I'm tempted to quote Alessandrini's well-turned couplets all night, but go see for yourself. Forbidden Broadway is a godsend, and this is a strong edition. Maybe because right now there's just so much to mock.

Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation
Through February 16, 2020
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's, 619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue, New York NY
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: