Review – Forbidden Broadway – Rude Awakening

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Forbidden Broadway is packed to the rat-ridden (the Whingers couldn’t help but notice the rat poison warning) rafters of the 47th Street Theatre. Because, of course, most of Broadway is forbidden at the moment thanks to Local One.

Anyway, Forbidden Broadway is an institution here. Since 1982 Gerard Alessandrini has been creating versions of the revue show spoofing whatever’s going on Broadway at the time. The current show is called Rude Awakening as a nod to the 8-Tony Award winning Spring Awakening (which isn’t running at the moment thanks to Local One).

It also sends up The Little Mermaid, Curtains, Les Miserables and A Chorus Line (none of which are running at the moment thanks to thanks to Local One).

Anyway, it’s very funny, but boy is it for the Broadway cognoscenti. Goodness knows what the casual tourists made of it. The Whingers particularly enjoyed a Grey Gardens spoof but if they hadn’t seen the original movie, they wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on. Indeed they struggled with some (LoveMusik for example) and references to someone called Raoul. Phil of course struggled with a lot less than Andrew, so nothing new here.

But the great thing about the format is that no sketch lasts longer than two or three minutes, so if you don’t know what’s going on, it doesn’t matter because there’s something else just around the corner.

Even without having seen Jersey Boys, the Whingers had no difficulty relishing the awfulness of it. Why that pile of crap is coming to London we have idea. And anything that takes a crack at Wicked wins our hearts.

A few things surprised us about Forbidden Broadway:

  • For a four-person revue it has a hell of a lot of costumes and wigs. The Lion King outfits were particularly amusing
  • The tunes are the original show tunes with new words written. We had assumed that the tunes would be parodies, but they’re not. How do they get permission? Do they get permission? From Sondheim, Disney et al?

Anyway, some of the highlights:

  • The Curtains spoof which takes a massive swipe at the casting of non-musical theatre Frasier star David Hyde Pierce to attract a non-Broadway audience (“slow people”) with lines such as “To the uninformed straight / If you’re famous, you’re great”.
  • A knock at B-celebrity casting in Chicago.
  • Productions of musicals in which the instruments are played by the cast members.
  • A great finale rewriting Hairspray‘s “You Can’t Stop the Beat” as “You Can’t Stop the Camp” lampooning the Xanadu, Hairspray, Legally Blonde and a dig at a very well known Hollywood and theatre star.

Andrew’s personal favourite was a complicated swipe at the modern musical performer’s dependence on microphones to make themselves heard. This involved the Phantom of the Opera and Ethel Merman duetting “You’re Just in Love” with Merman singing “You don’t need amplifying…”

Of course, it’s easy to snipe at things (Goodness! the Whingers should know), but Forbidden Broadway seems to occupy a more vital role as the keeper of Broadway’s pulse. Occasionally it gets depressed about the health of the theatre (particularly the Disneyfication) and sometimes it questions the symptoms of the illness: Is Broadway just not ready for Spring Awakening? Will it look back and see it as a ground-breaking musical? Or will it still be just filth in 10 years’ time?

All in all, the Whingers were in their element. They even forgave the theatre for

(a) going up 15 minutes late

(b) having the heating turned up to about 50 degrees centigrade and

(c) having “a brief five minute intermission”. A brief five minutes? Is it five minutes or not? Phil and Andrew were in pedants’ heaven.

9 Responses to “Review – Forbidden Broadway – Rude Awakening”

  1. Sounds like you chaps are having an excellent time, strike or no strike. Be nice to see a West End version of this don’t you think?

  2. Gil Says:

    Oh good, I’m glad you took my advice to see this one, and am particularly glad you enjoyed it.

    I’ll answer some of the questions you posed:

    “For a four-person revue it has a hell of a lot of costumes and wigs. The Lion King outfits were particularly amusing”

    That’s genius designer Alvin Colt, who has an insane amount of credits including the original Guys and Dolls. Check it out:

    “We had assumed that the tunes would be parodies, but they’re not. How do they get permission? Do they get permission? From Sondheim, Disney et al?”
    He does in fact get permission. When he started he didn’t, but now everybody knows who he is so there’s rarely a problem… legend has it that for Into the Woods, Sondheim actually sent him the title song and said, “go ahead, do your worst”. The one exception was your very own Webber, who initially wouldn’t let him use the music back in the 80s, so for awhile his parodies sounded “a lot like” Phantom of the Opera but were *technically* different notes. (Not so anymore, though.)

    “having the heating turned up to about 50 degrees centigrade”
    Well I sure hope you didn’t ask them to change the heating to a different number of in centigrade! What a silly silly measurement system.

  3. “Even without having seen Jersey Boys, the Whingers had no difficulty relishing the awfulness of it. Why that pile of crap is coming to London we have idea. And anything that takes a crack at Wicked wins our hearts.”

    Just wondering if you guys saw this on an earlier trip…I was pleasantly surprised by how much I wound up liking JB, far more than Drowsy Chaperone, which it beat for Best Musical in 2005.

    Also, while Alessandri does get permission for his parodies, the current text of US copyright law doesn’t require him to, as parody is protected as fair use.

    And Raul = Raul Esparza. He’s got a nice voice, but he’s made his career by BEING INTENSE! INTENSE DAMMIT INTENSE!!!

    Re: Interval Drinks, there have been two attempts in the past to do a London/West End version of Forbidden Broadway, but both have only (to my knowledge) managed to run for about six months. To do it successfully here, it would have to revert to the original New York format of being done as a late night cabaret once a week in a small space, as general consensus amongst the fans here I’ve talked to implies that there’s simply not the demand to keep it running nightly in London. That said, it would be awesome to see them take on the fringe as well – imagine the joys of taking the piss out of Punchdrunk.

  4. fred Says:

    hey, whingers, we know you are representatives of the petit-bourgeois, and therefore naturally side with the owners against the workers – but it’s the producers who deliberately sparked this strike by imposing new contracts on the union… so don’t blame local one for everything. more details at

  5. Fred –

    We take great exception to your “petit-bourgeois” slur. There is nothing “petit” about the Whingers other than Andrew’s shoe size and Phil’s mind.

    We are grand-bourgeois, and we will thank you to remember it.

  6. dbdb Says:

    Have to correct you Gil, centigrade/Celsius is a very sensible system, far more so than that ridiculous Fahrenheit nonsense.

  7. Henson Ray Says:

    I think this show needs a new writer. It’s just not as funny, clever or witty as it used to be. The author seems to be relying on the staples (Les Miz, Phantom, etc.) to carry the show, while most of the new stuff just isn’t up to par. (With the exception of the Grey Gardens and Drowsy Chaperone send-ups, which were the best new skits I saw in this new version.) The cast is talented, of course, but the show could use some fresh blood in the writing department. If you’ve never seen it before, it probably is funnier than someone who has seen all the various versions over the years.

  8. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    I did see the London version at the Fortune Theatre (I think) many moons ago, really can’t remember much about it but the Les Mis stage revolve running gag was familiar.

    It’s difficult to remember much due to my advanced years.
    I usually demand that Andrew “Write it down!” these days, which seems to help.

  9. Linda Van Zant Says:

    I am very impressed with Mr. Alessandrini’s work. I am a parody nut and think his parodies are brilliant!!!! Anyway, I have written a musical comedy revue which will rival (I hope!) “Menopase The Musical” called
    “Havin’ A Hot Flash!” using parodies of famialiar songs, many of which are from Broadway Musical which I adore! Here’s the problem. I am having some difficulties getting liceing agreements from the publishers of the music I wish to use. I’ve gotten some, but most have turned me down. Is there anything I can do to do the songs I want without getting sued? Also, I am thinkng about using some of the music in another way by having them sound like the original like Gerard has done, but technically different note-wise. How does this work? Any help would be most appreciated.

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