The best satire is the kind that doesn't quite flagrantly cross the line of bad taste and coarse affront, yet still manages to crap all over its intended victim with comical results. And that's the subtle brilliance of Forbidden Broadway, which opened last night at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater. It's the production's second go-round in Miami, where it broke box office records in 2008.
The Tony Award-winning production has been cutting Broadway's bloated
self-importance down to size since 1982. And, with the recent rise in
popularity in shows such as Jersey Boys and In The Heights, the
brainchild of writer/director Gerard Alessandrini doesn't seem to be
slowing down or lacking in any material.
Presented with a kind of old Vaudevillian flair, the talented foursome that make Forbidden Broadway go -- Jeanne Montano, William Selby, Craig Laurie and Miami-native, Gina Kreiezmar -- come at you with brutal wit and brilliant comedic timing.
The show opens with their rendition of Chicago, where the quartet reveals that what really matters about this musical isn't so much its contrived plot, or its Prohibition-era setting, but that those things are merely an excuse for the performers to wear Bowler hats and wiggle their hands with spread fingers and do lots and lots of sexy Jazz hands. This sets the tone for the rest of the performance, where the four leap into costumes and characters in Superman-in-a-phone-booth-speed.
And whereas past performances of Forbidden Broadway had focused on simply poking fun at old Broadway legends like Yul Brenner and Ethel Merman, this rendition seems to have saved some if its sharpest, most sardonic criticism for the Disneyfication of Broadway. Because, as the performers humorously illustrate, what really matters when it comes to Broadway shows that cost hundreds of dollars a ticket is puppets! "If you want a Tony," the foursome advise in song with Muppets in wigs, "flash a cloth cojone!"
The show manages to brilliantly skim the layer of what Broadway has become under the ominous shadow of Mickey Mouse in recent years, where hard-working, gifted entertainers pour their heart and soul into performances, yet are never seen or appreciated because they're buried under backbreaking African animal costumes performing in Julie Taymor productions.
This leads to Forbidden Broadway's other victims, such as Broadway Jukebox, where the Beatles catalog is emasculated and gutted on a nightly basis by Yoko Ono and her royalty-laden pockets. The show also eviscerates Jersey Boys and its forced plot and trite narrating, while saying what we've always thought: Frankie Valley tells us to walk like a man while singing like a girl.
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All four performances in the 60-minute show are crisp and hilarious. William Selby stands out with an earnest and riotous performance. Whether he's playing Stephen Sondheim, or Usnavi from In The Heights, Mr. Selby commands the stage with equal parts intellect and smart-ass-ness. Ms. Kreiezmar is the heart and soul of the production, and her uproarious Arrested Development-style Liza Minnelli brought the house down. Forbidden Broadway needs to be seen for that impression alone.
Whether it's the Lion King, or Annie, or Le Miserables ("Le Miser-ab-LE'!"), Forbidden Broadway doesn't hold back in cutting into some of Broadway's most revered productions while lambasting Broadway's Disney-laden obsession. We can hardly wait to see what they do with Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark in the future.
Forbidden Broadway runs on a limited, two-week engagement until December 26. Tickets cost $45 to $50. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.