Gerard Alessandrini is the man behind an ongoing series of off-Broadway parody revues known as Forbidden Broadway. The series has its share of devotees, and it was actually pretty funny in its early incarnations, but this was around the time that Alessandrini started to genuinely hate modern Broadway and everything started to go downhill. Granted, he’s still a genuinely gifted song parodist, but they say you should only spoof stuff you love or things can get ugly, and any affection Alessandrini had for his subjects was long gone by this point. Since I do not subscribe to his ‘theater is dead’ approach, I consider him to have become just another snobby critic like Denny Martin Flinn or Barry Singer, and the fact that he packages his message in reasonably funny song parodies isn’t enough to make me give him a pass.
However, this installment of the series is probably the most tolerable of the ones from this decade. While it features the same lazy recycling of material that Alessandrini is so quick to attack whenever anybody else does it (several of the songs heard here are originally from earlier, unrecorded incarnations of the revue), this is actually a fairly funny collection of parodies. Because Alessandrini reflexively ridicules everything whether it deserves it or not, and is not exactly gentle in his parodies, this revue is tolerable precisely because it came out in a genuinely bad season, thus giving him his pick of actual legitimate targets. This was just before The Producers hit, and Broadway was indeed in about as bad a shape as it had ever been in.
Of course, Alessandrini’s loud predictions of doom for Broadway at this point ended up shattered by the renaissance sparked by The Producers (although I’m sure he himself would insist otherwise), and it does get kind of tiresome hearing his usual paranoid ranting about Disney being the Antichrist and his barely-relevant paeans directed at his usual idols Cole Porter and Ethel Merman. Still, he makes astute, if mean-spirited, fun at such genuine artistic failures as the pale, imitative Music Man revival from that year, the craze for dance-pieces being passed off as ersatz musicals (whether you liked some of them or not, there really was something depressing about that trend), Elton John’s lifeless Aida score, the out-of-her-depth Cheryl Ladd trying to perform Annie Get Your Gun, and especially a hilarious takedown of the horrible Saturday Night Fever stage version.
The impressions that form a large part of the shows’ appeal are excellent in this one, especially those by Christine Pedi and Danny Gurwin’s Sondheim impersonation. The only really asinine moments are when he pretends to be a prude so he can have something to bitch about concerning the brilliant Cabaret revival of the time, and his continued whacking away at his old tired complaints about Pop Opera, complete with some disagreeable gloating about the closing of Miss Saigon, which he took as a sign that all the Pop Operas he hated were on their way out (“Is Les Mis or Phantom next?”). Well, Les Mis lasted another three years, then came back for more a few years later, and is now a hit movie, and Phantom is still a Broadway fixture and shows no sign of going anywhere, so Alessandrini’s predictions didn’t really come true there either. But really, I can’t say too much bad about this one…most of the things he attacks here do merit some attacking, and this is about as funny and effective as any of the series’ entries from this point on.