"Forbidden Broadway," the New York-born vest-pocket revue that opened last night in the Omni Shoreham Hotel's Marquee Lounge, takes on such legendary performers as Julie Andrews, Carol Channing and Yul Brynner, and such hits as "Cats," "Annie" and "Evita," and administers them all a sound . . . tweaking.
None of the targets -- or "victims," as the show's overinflated terminology would have it -- is apt to reel from the attack. Although "Forbidden Broadway" likes to view itself as mean and nasty, the kind of show-business bitchery it practices cuts only skin deep.
On the other hand, in what would otherwise be a void of theatrical satire, it is nudging, if not rocking, the pedestals of the great and near-great. For that -- and for the rambunctious energy of its five performers -- the quick evening may appeal to some.
It will appeal most to die-hard fans of musical comedy and its sadly diminished firmament of stars. What "Forbidden Broadway's" creator Gerard Alessandrini does is borrow celebrated show tunes and outfit them with new, boomeranging lyrics. To the strains of "Shall We Dance" from "The King and I," for example, Yul Brynner (William Selby in a rubber skullcap) raps his bald pate rhythmically and sings, "Do I shave? Do I splash Aqua Velva on my head? Do I shave? Or just paint hard enamel on instead?"
Jerry Christakos, diamond earrings dripping from his upswept wig, intones "I Am What I Am," George Hearn's big first-act finale from "La Cage aux Folles"; it comes out "I Ham What I Ham." A woozy Richard Harris (Selby again), propping himself up with his broadsword from "Camelot," barks out "I wonder what the king is drinking tonight." To "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," Mary Martin (Suzanne Blakeslee) laments her latter-day fame as "Larry Hagman's mother," while Ethel Merman (Janet Aldrich all in fire-engine red, lips included) bellows that "everything's coming up Merman for me and for me."
Satire like this doesn't go very far; it is, in fact, still pretty much at the starting line. "Forbidden Broadway" zeros in on the obvious -- Lauren Bacall's manly voice, Jennifer Holliday's girth, Ann Miller's wigs, Kevin Kline's preening egotism in "The Pirates of Penzance." But this is one-joke stuff and Alessandrini rarely comes up with jokes two and three. (It could even be argued that Kline beat "Forbidden Broadway" to the punch; his swaggering "Pirates" performance was already a shrewd parody of self-infatuation.)
The revue verges on the promisingly catty with "Don't Cry for Me, Barbra Streisand," which has a jealous Patti LuPone (Aldrich) dumping scorn on Streisand for scooping up the "Evita" movie rights. "Chita/Rita" takes off from the fruitful notion that there's no telling Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera apart. And there are glimmers of outrageousness to the show's skewering of Anthony Quinn (" 'Zorba' is what he does, while he's waiting to die") and his excessive machismo ("Everybody, let's all help Anthony pick up the piano with his teeth"). Still, the cleverness is not exactly breathtaking.
The material is only part of it, however. The success of "Forbidden Broadway" also depends on performers who can credibly ape the superstars in question. Pointed impressions could even redeem the less-than-pointed jibes. In that respect, this edition of the show (there are others in Boston and Chicago) is a letdown. Even with an abundance of trademark wigs and costumes to help them along, this cast is giving us meager approximations. Blakeslee's Channing is recognizable mainly from the smear of red lipstick around her mouth, while Selby's Brynner outfit does all the work. Aldrich and Christakos come nearer to their marks, but not so close as to make you blink twice.
Instead, this production, directed by Jan Neuberger, seems to count on the zest of the youthful cast members to win us over. They are lively creatures, bright-eyed and brisk, and pianist Mark Mitchell augments their cheerful presence with his buoyant accompaniment. That makes "Forbidden Broadway" upbeat. But so, you may conclude, is the annual frat show, to which this benign evening bears some resemblance.