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A CurtainUp Review
Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act

You're seated at tables, conversation hums and buzzes all around and waiters are at the ready with food and drinks. Then the lights dim. Enter your MC -- black hair parted at the center and slicked down, chest covered only by suspenders and a perky bow tie. Welcome. Wilkommen to Cabaret by way of Gerard Alessandrini's latest update of his insouciant Forbidden Broadway spoof-revue. To put a quick stop to Edward Staudenmayer's uncannily Alan Cumming-like naughtiness, there's Mayor Rudy Guiliani (Bryan Batt) with Julie Andrews (Lori Hammel) in tow to supervise Forbidden Broadway as it Cleans Up Its Act! Staudenmayer /Cumming returns in Act II with Lori Hammel standing in for both the original and current Sally Bowles.

As anyone who's attended any of Forbidden Broadway's dozen previous incarnations knows, your ticket buys you a hilariously skewered mini-portrait of not one but at least twenty shows as well as some of their creators. Unlike some of the landmarks like Les Mis ("We smell like formaldehyde/ chances are we'll be running when the people here have died"), Forbidden Broadway always reinvents itself. Even previously done parodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mitchell always have some new touches.

This year's crop of new musicals targeted by Batt (the only holdover from the last edition), Staudenmayer, Hammel and Kristine Zbornik include among others    The Lion King, Footloose, Mandy Patinkin's Mamaloshen, Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake and Ragtime. Batt has several riot-and-a-half standout numbers, notably as the baboon Rafiki in a Mickey Mouse crowned headdress and a Mandy rendition of "I Have a Little Dreidel" as an example of the songs he's brought to the stage "to pummel to death." Together with Staudenmayer, he also does a wickedly funny take on the be-feathered and, according to their interpretation, decidedly gay black swans of Swan Lake. True to its standing as the year's major spectacle The Lion King gets the full cast treatment, with well-placed shafts at puppet shows replacing "what we used to call content" and the feeling (of pain) experienced by the poor humans forced to prance around the New Amsterdam in Julie Taymor's costumes. Speaking of costumes, the Forbidden Broadway the company's designer Alvin Colt has once again outdone himself with his outrageously on the mark creations.

One of the best numbers is an inspired bit of Irish blarney tied to a non-musical, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, with Lori Hammel as Maureen and Kristine Zbornik as her marvelously gross Mum. Too bad Mr. Allesandrini didn't oust the Zbornik and Hammel joined-in-one-dress Side Show number and take a stab at another straight play like Side Man which strikes me as a natural target for his wit. Oh, well, in a satirical anthology of this type, there are bound to be some misses amid the predominating hits. In one instance, the Titanic number, hit and miss co-exists. Titanic, the musical, is side-splittingly funny, but when it seagues into Titanic, the movie, cleverness gives way to broad and not very funny slapstick involving Leonardo di Capricio (Edward Staudenmayer) and Kate Winslett (Lori Hammel) picking their noses.

On balance, Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act! is an applause worthy edition of a revue that pays homage to Broadway even as it puts it down. Its environmental basement space in the heart of the theater district is hardly more roomy than its former Off-Broadway home, but at least it brings the arrow shooters within physical bullseye range of their targets. Some of the producers of the shows speared by Alessandrini and company's humorous arrows could take lessons from this small company's ability to dance and sing on a postage-sized stage shared with a baby grand piano.

Created and written by Gerard Alessandrini
Directed by Phillip George and Gerard Alessandrini
With Bryan Batt, Lori Hammel, Edward Staudenmayer, Kristine Zbornik
Musical direction by Matthew Ward
Set design: Bradley Kaye
Costume design: Alvin Colt
Lighting design: Marc Janowitz
Choreography: Phillip George
Stardust Theatre downstairs in Ellen's Stardust Diner, Broadway and 51st St. (212.239-6200). Performances began 9/07/98; opening 11/17/98
Reviewed 11/29/98 by Elyse Sommer
Links to available reviews of shows spoofed in the latest FB edition
The Beauty Queen of Leenane
The Lion King
The Titanic
Swan Lake
Jekyll and Hyde
The Sound of Music
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