Alive and Kicking

Created and Written by Gerard Alessandrini
Directed by Philip George and Gerard Alessandrini
47th Street Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

As I guest most dedicated US theatre aficionados know, Forbidden Broadway—written, created and these days co-directed by the very naughty and talented Gerard Alessandrini—is an irreverent satirical revue about Broadway theatre that’s had 20 editions plus periodic updates fairly regularly over three decades (notwithstanding a few hiatuses between versions). Its success is borne of a very canny treading of a middle ground between inside industry lampooning and fanboy/fangirl dishiness (with only mild forays into full-metal bitchiness).

                        It tends to be built on two types of satirical approach (which sometimes overlap; they’re not always mutually exclusive, so really I’m talking about proportion):

                        The first is to present celebrities or shows with famous idiosyncrasies and exaggerate those idiosyncrasies to the point of absurdity and thus (at times) to the point of exposing hypocrisy, or at the very least artifice. For example: in the current edition, subtitled Alive and Kicking, there’s a parody of the Mandy Patinkin-Patti LuPone reunion concert that takes devastating aim at their overplayed displays of personal affection and professional admiration that verge on sexual intimacy; there’s also a lampoon of the frenetic choreography to be found in Newsies. That, for me is FB at its best and sharpest, because for the most part it lets the absurdity speak for itself.

                        The second approach is one of conscious commentary. This is best when it’s editorial: i.e. Mary Poppins emerges to sing “Feed the ‘Burbs” about certain producers’ cynical penchant for reanimating familiar commercial titles and creating stage versions of musical movies, to make money from non-sophisticate audiences outside the big cities and on the road. The apprach is at its least pointed (for me anyway) when it’s self-commentary…for example, when “Matthew Broderick” appears and, to a tune from Nice Work if You Can Get It, sings gleefully about how he’s a bad singer and a crappy dancer and how, when he performs as either, you’re sure to find him annoying. On the one hand, the premise is false—Broderick sings and dances expertly but he does both idiosyncratically, and it’s the idiosyncrasies that bear lampooning (think in terms of stand-up impressionists for the kind of thing I mean); that reduces the satire to simple derision; and a little derision goes a long way. On the other hand—comedy is the most democratic form of entertainment. If the audience laughs, it’s funny. The night I attended, the audience (including my significant other) laughed heartily at most of what was up there at the 47th Street Theatre (in the case of the Broderick sketch, it didn’t hurt that an intentionally cheap, ragged rendering [as in rendering a chicken] of the choreography in Nice Work was part and parcel of the moment). And who could sanely deny the validity of three decades worth of similarly happy patrons? So in that sense my reviewing this revue is almost moot. The best I can do is tell you what to expect.

                        But add to your expectations that a brilliant and merciless cast of four—Natalie Charlé Ellis, Jenny Lee Stevens, Scott Richard Foster and Marcus Stevens, briskly accompanied (but with a deceptive air of innocence) by musical director/pianist David Caldwell—are complicit with Mr. Alessandrini in inflicting the maximum possible damage…with as much barely disguised affection as they can muster.

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