`Forbidden Broadway' kids big hits and stars

Broadway may be feeling its oats with two runaway hit musicals, ``The Phantom of the Opera'' and ``Les Mis'erables,'' plus a number of also-rans, namely ``Starlight Express.'' But now comes ``Forbidden Broadway 1988'' to roast those oats during an indefinite run at Boston's Park Plaza Hotel. Just in the nick of time, what with the Great White Way, flush with these sellout imports, wringing its hands over the future of the American theater. It's the kind of pious posturing that gives ``Forbidden Broadway'' an additional edge this year.

Ever since writer/director Gerard Allessandrini fired the revue's first satirical salvos six years ago, ``Forbidden Broadway'' has become an annual institution, sometimes amateurish but usually on target in its pillorying of Broadway performers and performances with a judicious and somewhat jaundiced eye. Favorite targets include the year's best and worst shows as well as such long-in-the-tooth performers as Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, and Lena Horne.

For five of those six years, Allessandrini's cabaret-style revue ran in New York, with additional troupes in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, and Boston. Last season, however, the company lost a bout with Manhattan's real estate market and took up expatriate residence in Boston. (Allessandrini hopes to return the show to New York later this season.)

This year's ``Forbidden Broadway'' runs true to form, skewering Broadway's highs and lows with familiar show tunes laced with Allessandrini's lyrics - running from rapier to rusty - all belted out by an uneven quartet of performers. (Dorothy Kiara and Toni DiBuono put the two men, Jeff Lyons and Phillip George, to shame.)

Sure, there's the old chestnuts roasting - Channing, Streisand, Joel Grey, and the like (many of the songs have been updated) - but the best of the new material takes aim at and issue with the British invasion of Broadway. Sendups of ``Les Miz'' and ``Phantom of the Opera'' are, not surprisingly, the most alacritous; the satire of ``Starlight Express,'' renamed ``Starlight Excess,'' staggers as much as the original.

The evening begins a tad too in-jokey with an actors' ode to a covetousness number - ``Who Do They Know?'' (to get their jobs, presumably). But the sarcasm and the performances sharpen as the evening unfolds. There is a hilarious sendup of Britain's mega-producer, Cameron Mackintosh, as a Napoleonic emperor of kitsch. To the tune of ``My Favorite Things,'' Lyons lampoons Mackintosh's marketing savvy with ``records and CDs and cat beards and T-shirts ... these are a few of my souvenir things.''

Andrew Lloyd Webber, the other British Wunderkind, takes his knocks with ``The Phantom of the Musical.'' DiBuono plays Webber's diva-esque wife, Sarah Brightman, with bemused grandiloquence while Lyons cavorts beneath the white half-mask, screeching in key, ``I threatened Equity to bring you here.'' When Sarah unmasks Weber's Phantom disguise to reveal him as Mickey Mouse, he promptly restages the infamous chandelier scene (here in miniaturized version) to do in this ``Nightingale on LSD.''

Funny stuff, but not as funny as the ``Les Mis'erables'' spoof. If ``Starlight Excess'' is a one-joke parody, and ``Phantom'' succeeds via its sight gag, ``Les Mis'erables'' works best because Allessandrini's lyrics here are longer, more intricate, more acidic. The sketch goes on and on, nearly as long as the Trevor Nunn show itself. DiBuono, who by evening's end is clearly the star of the revue, play's Eponine, the heart-of-gold prostitute. Her signature song has been craftily revamped: ``I dreamed a time when shows were fun and they used bright lighting. I dreamed of shows long gone by when I didn't sing one song and die. But now that misery's in style ... rich folks pay $20 for a shirt that has a starving moppet on it.''

It's amusing and provocative in print, but even more so when sung to the bombastic ``Les Miz'' score, throbbingly played by musical director David Chase. Add to this a clever miming of the show's endlessly whirling turntable and you have the heart of ``Forbidden Broadway 1988.''

The rest of the evening, also true to tradition, is a smattering of hit-or-miss blackout sketches. There's a parody of Stephen Sondheim's latest non-melodic musical, ``Into the Woods'' (``Into the Words''); a not-too-funny look at out-of-date revivals, ``Everything Went,'' as in ``Anything Goes''; a skewering of the theater-owning Shuberts and Nederlanders - as feuding Hatfields and McCoys - that should sting and doesn't.

Some of this is cleverer in concept than in execution. But if you don't like any of it, just wait a second; ``Forbidden Broadway'' succeeds a lot on the three-minute attention span.

If Allessandrini's lyrics occasionally falter, the female parodies - nay, impersonations - by DiBuono and Kiara never do. DiBuono is the show's only original cast member, and she and Kiara are positively chameleon-like, moving from svelte to smarmy, vampy to vapid. Best of these: Liza and Judy, Lena Horne, Barbara Cook (DiBuono in a frighteningly funny fat suit), and, of course, Mary Martin and Ethel Merman. DiBuono, whose piercing coloratura appropriately wails ``Turn off all the mikes,'' belted out this Mermanesque rendition at this year's Super Bowl.

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