The successive editions of the Forbidden Broadway revue constitute a strange, but usually accurate history of the state of Broadway. The fourth version, called Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back!, chronicles the Great White Way in satire for a three-year period, 1994-96 -- or, to put it another way, from Beauty and the Beast to the revival of Chicago. Writer/director Gerard Alessandrini's lyrics berate individual musicals: "Be Depressed," set to the tune of Beauty and the Beast's "Be Our Guest," notes Disney's takeover of Broadway ("while you're fading/We will be invading"); an all-inclusive revival of Show Boat is dubbed Slow Boat; Sunset Boulevard provides an opportunity to decry the incursion of head microphones as the stage is invaded by the stentorian Ethel Merman; and a revisionist revival of The King & I is attacked for being too serious. A few shows are given more extensive treatment. The biggest flap of the period occurred when Julie Andrews renounced a Tony Award nomination for Victor/Victoria when the rest of the show was passed over; that gives Alessandrini room for an extensive set of Andrews parodies. (Indeed, he confesses in his liner notes that he can think of many more.) And the play Master Class, in which Maria Callas was portrayed by Zoe Caldwell, who was succeeded by Patti LuPone, serves as a frame to introduce a series of divas and their conflicts with each other, from LuPone's dispute with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who replaced her with Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, to a pregnant Madonna in the film version of Evita, whom LuPone had played on Broadway. Of course, the parodies have to be performed effectively by actors who can impersonate all these people, and the four-person cast of Bryan Batt, Donna English, Christine Pedi, and Tom Plotkin succeeds remarkably, also managing to inhabit (and exaggerate) Nathan Lane, Ann Reinking, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin, Liza Minnelli, Jerry Lewis, Cameron Mackintosh, Elaine Stritch, and the lowball producing team of Barry and Fran Weissler, on the lookout for has-been stars to plug into their revival of Grease. Still, some things work better than others. In a period when Cats surpassed A Chorus Line as the longest-running musical in history, mixing the two up in "Stop Cats! -- A Chorus Cat" was inspired, but not all that funny, perhaps because Alessandrini's real antipathy to Cats is so apparent. And the parodies of Big (a failure) and Rent (a success) oddly both suffer from the relative unfamiliarity of their scores. Probably a lot of Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back! will date fast because so many of the shows it satirizes are forgettable. But as usual, Broadway fans who know the people and productions will laugh knowingly.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann