June 16, 2007

No Longer "Forbidden Broadway"

No matter who wins, there's usually a kind of post-partum depression that follows the Tony Awards. Inevitably, some shows post their closing notices. This year, Journey's End, the winner for Best Revival of a Play, actually closed the day of the awards ceremony. The next day, Company, which won for Best Revival of a Musical but failed to get a statuette for its star Raul Esparza, announced that it would shut down on July 1. Radio Golf, the final installment in August Wilson's 10-part cycle about the African American experience, plays its final performance on July 1 too. And the also Tony-neglected LoveMusik and Talk Radio will end on June 24.

With the exception of Journey’s End, I wasn't a big fan of the closing productions but I'm always sad to see a show close. And so, hoping to chase the blues away, I took myself to see Forbidden Broadway: The Roast of Utopia, the new "Special Summer Edition" of the 25 year-old revue that lovingly parodies Broadway shows. It's been years since I've seen Forbidden Broadway but my friend Bill, my co-enabler in all matters theater, had seen a show earlier this year and told me it was a hoot. For Roast of Utopia, which opened on June 13 and is scheduled to run through August, Forbidden Broadway creator Gerard Alessandrini and his director Phillip George have, as usual, assembled a cast of four hardworking and incredibly versatile performers. They are terrific and the fact that their Playbill bios are heavy on road company tours and regional productions is a reminder of just how awesomely deep the talent bench is in New York. The veteran costume designer Alvin Colt, who is currently being honored with a retrospective of his six-decade career
at the Museum of the City of New York (click here to see a design sketch he did for the original production of Guys and Dolls), has done wonders on a small budget.

Despite the current title, there is no Coast of Utopia number but Curtains, Company, Grey Gardens, Legally Blonde, LoveMusik, Mary Poppins, and Spring Awakening all get their turn on the show's skewer, including up-to-the-minute references to Tony winners and losers. Some of the songs had me laughing out loud but not as much as I used to. Part of what I loved about Forbidden Broadway was the transgressive pleasure of watching it send up Broadway shows and Broadway stars in a way that you had to be Broadway savvy to get. Being at a Forbidden Broadway show made me feel like a member of a very smart club. But in recent years, Broadway musicals like The Producers, Urinetown and currently Spamalot have poked fun at Broadway themselves. It's not that Forbidden Broadway is no longer funny, it's just that everyone is now in on the joke, which Alessandrini acknowledges in one of his numbers. In fact, in our pop culturally conscious era, this style of entertainment is so pervasive and people so used to laughing at in-joke references that you apparently can have a good time at Forbidden Broadway even if you don't know anything about the shows being parodied. The couple behind me, in from San Antonio, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, even though I overhead them confusing 42nd Street with A Chorus Line. As Roast of Utopia moved into a spoof of the opening number from Company, the husband leaned over to the wife and whispered, “Who’s this Bobby they’re talking about?” “Oh, I think it’s Bobby Kennedy,” she whispered back.

It made even a culture populist like me nostalgic for the old days.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Great post! And that last line about "Who's Bobby" is a riot!

The only time I ever really tried to see Forbidden Broadway, I learned it was on hiatus. But with your recommendation, it's back on my list!