Talkin' Broadway HomePast ColumnsAbout





Off Broadway


Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

If you've been putting off your yearly physical, you should strongly consider visiting your doctor immediately. You'll need to be in perfect health before stepping foot near the 47th Street Theatre, the new home of Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit - there's a very real chance you could die laughing.

If anyone is to be arrested for the reckless endangerment currently on offer, it must not be Gerard Alessandrini. The creator, writer, and director of the long-running satirical revue series is guilty only of harboring an undying love for musical theatre, and aiding and abetting the vivisection of the most dangerous trends, most ridiculous shows, and most overwrought performances to be found on the Great White Way.

No, the true culprit here is the latest jukebox musical, Lennon, which didn't live up to expectations and instead opened at the Broadhurst last month. Had that not happened, Alessandrini would never have had the impunity - and the responsibility - to enact one of the most violently hilarious scenes to grace the show in years: He has Jeanne Montano, clad in Yoko Ono's long black wig and jeans (Alvin Colt is the irreplaceable costumer), stand on stage and screech her way through a money-grubbing "Imagine" as if the sun really won't come out tomorrow.

The sound of Montano's voice here is one that transcends traditional singing; it's more like the death throes of a small animal in a meat grinder than anything anyone would want to pay money to hear. But paradoxically, though this profit-starved Yoko ("Imagine all subsidiaries / Giving 6.25 percent of weekly net) is aware that she's destroying Broadway with each incessant wail, that gloriously hideous sound is also one of rebirth: Forbidden Broadway is officially back in top, electric form.

When this edition opened in December, the new material was irresistible, but there were a few too many holdovers from previous seasons: Bernadette Peters, Sutton Foster, Jefferson Mays, and others were offering no-longer-trenchant insights into Broadway and its peculiar economics, dulling much of the show's impact. But now, with only a few small exceptions (most notably "Beauty's Been Decreased," which was old news when I first saw it in 2000), things are now thoroughly - and thrillingly - up to date.

If nothing quite lives up to "Imagine" (with its wonderful lead-in from Jason Mills, dressed as a cowboy to sing to a classic Richard Rodgers tune, "Oh, what a terrible genre!"), the Light in the Piazza section comes close: Megan Lewis's barely functional Kelli O'Hara and Jason Mills's Aaron Lazar contend with an impossibly errant hat (that flies in people's faces when it flies at all) and Adam Guettel's impossibly complex score (the brutal "Sing It Somehow") in trying to tell what should be a simple love story.

Lewis, the show's most brightly shining star, also struts her stuff as an underequipped Christina Applegate, as an incomprehensible Patti LuPone recovering from Can Can and preparing for Sweeney Todd, and as a patrician Cherry Jones coping with a constantly complaining Kathleen Turner just across the street. But Ron Bohmer is also a hoot as an increasingly forgetful Robert Goulet trying to survive La Cage aux Folles without lapsing into South Pacific or Camelot, and Mills delivers spot-on cameos as the terminally unappreciated Norbert Leo Butz (aka "Not John Lithgow") singing "It Sucks To Be Me," and a show-saving Rosie O'Donnell in the "Cashmaker, Cashmaker" section of "Fiddler With No Jew."

Alessandrini waits until just before the finale to take on Broadway's current box-office behemoth, Spamalot. And when its turn comes around, the melody and lyrics ring with a familiarity even the performers can't help but acknowledge: "Wait, there's something strange / The lyrics didn't change," they sing, before knowingly realizing, "We stole the song that goes like this."

It's unsurprising that Alessandrini's version of the number is much funnier than the one actually used in Spamalot; even stealing back his own ideas, he - not Arthur - is the true once and future king. This freshening of Forbidden Broadway proves that he's still more capable than anyone else of knocking jokes out of the park and knocking audiences dead. Luckily, there aren't many better ways to go.

_____________________________

Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes with one intermission
47th Street Theatre, 304 West 47th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge