Forbidden Broadway Garner Galleria Theatre The Broadway musical is a big, bloated, conventional, endlessly copycatting phenomenon that cries out to be skewered, and Forbidden Broadway has been skewering it for more than three decades, ever since underemployed actor Gerard Alessandrini turned his hand to writing satire and staged the first version at a New York supper club. The revue went on to win critical praise and several awards, and has now been performed all over the country and in a few foreign capitals, in various incarnations. Despite all that, Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking, now showing at the Garner Galleria Theatre, never feels packaged. Starring four of our brightest local talents, this production is fresh, alive, and very, very funny. It must have been tailored a bit for the area, with an understanding of which musicals have come to Denver and what shows we'll recognize even if they haven't -- which makes for an enjoyable evening for musical-theater buffs, dabblers and just about everyone else. See also: BDT Stage's Fiddler on the Roof Is Reason to Celebrate -- L'Chaim! The roster of parodies takes in everything from Les Misérables through the Disney churn-outs to the serious, soulful Once, and the show manages to be savage without losing its good humor. If you hate the musical in question, you'll find the parodies hilarious; the same is true if you love/hate it; and there's a subversive thrill in seeing even work you genuinely admire skillfully mocked. Take the parody of Mandy Patinkin, whom I -- along with most of the rest of the world -- have loved ever since he uttered the immortal words "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die" in The Princess Bride, and who is a masterful actor and an intriguingly original singer. Here, in the person of Jordan Leigh, he sings his own peculiar version of "I Have a Little Dreidel," his voice ranging from ear-piercing to gentle as a dove's crooning, with flare-ups of inexplicable passion. It's hilarious, and even fans can't possibly be offended, because Alessandrini and Leigh have caught Patinkin's mannerisms so precisely that you know there's an element of homage amid the mockery. A couple of numbers miss their mark. The Book of Mormon had to be in the mix, given its phenomenal success and the intense marketing campaign that had tickets in Denver (the first post-Broadway stop) selling out in five hours -- but the song in which Trey Parker and Matt Stone exult in their own cleverness and wealth and boast about bringing profanity to Broadway isn't nearly as funny as the musical itself.
Most of the parodies sting beautifully, though. "On My Phone," sung by a bored Eponine -- Lauren Shealy -- texting away backstage in Les Mis, is a comedic gem, and so is the rest of the Les Mis skit, which has the performers turning endlessly on their revolving turntable as they lament the equally endless return of the musical: "You can smell the formaldehyde," they sing. Then there's the jealousy duet between Chita Rivera, the first Anita in West Side Story, and Rita Moreno, who played the role in the movie, sung to the tune of "America." And I don't care how often Wicked gets satirized, you can't prick that hot-air-filled balloon often enough.
There are some semi-serious points, too. These days, performers work with miking technology that's able to not only amplify sound, but also modulate the voice, so you can never be sure just how good the flesh-and-blood singer in front of you is, and the sound becomes an actual barrier between you and the performer. As the Phantom singing "The Music of the Night," Chad T. Reagan warbles this: "When the song's a bitch/And I'm slightly under pitch/They just flick the reverb switch/From left to right." And suddenly Ethel Merman -- aka Sarah Rex -- appears to show him just how strongly the unaided human voice can be projected.
Since Forbidden Broadway is actor-created, we get a level of insight bred from close observation -- and maybe a little well-deserved spite. I was knocked out when I first saw Julie Taymor's puppet animals in The Lion King, but it never occurred to me that the costumes were agony to wear until I heard "Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?" So I guess the array of injuries caused by her ill-fated Spiderman could have been predicted.
This show requires a lot of talent, and these performers deliver, with splendid voices, clear enunciation (essential), charm and fearless comic chops. It all adds up to a bright, sharp and entertaining show -- and a great way to start a new year of theater-going.
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Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking, presented by the Garner Galleria Theatre through March 1, Denver Performing Arts Complex. For schedule and ticket information, call 303-893-4100 or go to denvercenter.org.