New York lyricist Gerard Allessandrini put together a musical revue
to showcase his talents, to get his work heard. He took legendary
Broadway songs and wrote alternate, satirical lyrics, poking fun at
Broadways performers, directors, producers and audience. The
showcase, titled Forbidden Broadway, became a phenomenon,
has played at theatres all over the U.S., and currently runs at the
H&R Block City Stage Theater in Union Station. Theatre League
left to right, clockwise) Don Richard (The Phantom of
the Opera), Becky Barta (Disney's Beauty and the
Beast), John-Michael Zuerlein (Disney's The Lion
King) and Cathy Barnett (Thoroughly Modern Millie).
(photograph courtesy Union Station)
If you have seen Forbidden Broadway before, rest assured:
this production is different. Every version has its own mix:
new musical numbers, older songs and a respectively unique order
of events. Performers in the show often have sung it before
so each cast member has her or his specialties or favorite features
that color the various manifestations of the revue. Allessandrini
stays current and regularly adds parodies of contemporary Broadway
events, adding to the flexibility of each production.
With voices of steel and comic expertise, the four performers
in this production, Cathy Barnett, Becky Barta, Don Richard,
and John-Michael Zuerlein shine. All make use of flexible, brassy
voices, broad physical comedy and sardonic impressions of stars.
Accompanist Holly Wilson adds her talent on the piano.
"No Leading Lady Tonight," to the tune of "Luck
Be a Lady Tonight" from Guys and Dolls, pokes fun
at a common Broadway mishap, an understudy's replacement of
a big name female star. Barta appears dressed as Belle from
Disney's Beauty and the Beast, singing "Beauty's
Been Decreased" about the continual downsizing of the extravagant
production and the firing of performers: "Pink slips everywhere
. . ."
The tune of Jules Styne's "You Gotta Get a Gimmick"
from Gypsy accompanies the lyrics of "You've Gotta
Be Disgusting" about Broadway's current penchant to mount
productions with seedier themes. Barnett with a toilet brush
sings about Urinetown's success, Richard dons a police
uniform and hat to reference the popularity of The Full Monty,
and Zurlein enters with a stuffed goat belting lyrics that depict
Albee's inter-species love affair play, The Goat.
A Les Miserables medley may be the strongest sequence
in the show. The actors shuffle in a circle during the transitions
between each number, satirizing the large turntable so apparent
in Les Mis. Richard sings a wordy explanation of the
complicated plot; Barnett listens and expresses hilarious confusion
over the story's confusing twists. A parody of the ballad "Bring
Him Home" has Richard crooning stratospheric tones with
the lyric "It's Too High."
Zurlein makes light of the actor/singer Mandy Patinkin's extravagant
performing style with the song "Super Frantic Hyperactive
Humor is often a veil used to cover pain and, despite the cleverness
of Forbidden Broadway's lyrics and the excellence of
the performing, an underlying darkness infuses the show. Many
jokes spring from the desperation suffered by the numerous out-of-work
actors in show business. The piece itself has achieved high
recognition by pointing out and magnifying flaws in the hard
work of Broadway's artisans.
Barta appears dressed as the title role in Annie and sings "I'm
30 years old tomorrow" pleading to be used in the role
again. Barta later delivers a caricature of Julie Andrews singing
"I Couldn't Hit the Note" to the tune of the "I
Could Have Danced All Night." Andrew's ringing voice suffered
a tragic blow in 1997 when she had to undergo vocal surgery.
This particular musical parody is mean-spirited.
Like many local productions, the program credits no choreographer,
yet dancing figures prominently into the event. The opening
number even includes the lyric "An arty dance doesn't stand
a chance." Then the number "Give 'Em the Old Saucy
Fosse" almost immediately follows, with conspicuously arty
cartooning of Fosse's salacious, laconic choreography. A send-up
of Carol Channing's perpetual appearance as Dolly Levi in Hello,
Dolly! has her flanked by Richard and Zurlein, all three
dancing a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Gower Champion's original
One star of the show gets no stage time or bow but deserves
enormous applause: Wardrobe Supervisor Thom Davis. The singers
repeatedly exit, make lightning-swift costume, wig and hat changes,
and appear onstage without missing a note.
For example, the actors suffer under the weight of Lion Kinginspired
headdresses for the number "Can You Feel the Strain Tonight?"
then they exit to quickly emerge in contrasting attire. Richard
dresses as Yul Brenner in The King and I for the final
number "There's No Broadway Like Old Broadway," then
manages to reappear onstage in a tuxedo for the bow. The complete
costume change seems instant.
Despite some disturbing elements, Forbidden Broadway,
thanks to four consummate actor/singers and a hard-working production
staff, is hilarious, fun and worth witnessing. It runs until
Aug. 1 (Theatre League hopes to extend it) at the Union Station
City Stage, 8 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday,
and 7 p.m. on Sunday. Call 816-460-2020.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.