Forbidden play takes aim at bloated Broadway

This biting satire of Broadway hits, performed in a cabaret-style revue, takes merciless hits at the current Broadway season, both blockbusters and bankruptcies.,The best show to reach Boston from Broadway does not have a star-ridden cast, blinding special effects or even an orchestra. Instead, Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit has a cast of four singers and one grand piano-and that’s all it needs.

This biting satire of Broadway hits, performed in a cabaret-style revue, takes merciless hits at the current Broadway season, both blockbusters and bankruptcies. The “victims” include Brooke Shields, Hugh Jackman and Christina Applegate as well as classics such as Fiddler on the Roof and current shows like Wicked. It’s an absolute roast.

The cast consists of Janet Dickinson, Valerie Fagan, Kevin B. McGlynn and Nick Verina, with Catherine Stronetta as the musical director and pianist. The undeniably talented actors perform numerous roles throughout the night, impersonating different Broadway stars, complete with accents and mannerisms.

A staple of the off-Broadway scene since the ’80s, Forbidden Broadway was first performed in Palsson’s Supper Club in New York, when Gerard Alessandrini assembled a parody of the current Broadway scene. It has since become the longest-running off-Broadway show, receiving Obie, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It is not uncommon for the subjects of parody to be seen in the Big Apple audience, laughing with everyone else as they are subject to the show’s jokes.

Forbidden Broadway does more than simply make fun of stars. The “victims” skits also address the current “crimes” against Broadway. “The Circle of Mouse,” sung to “The Circle of Life,” exemplifies Disney’s buying power on the Great White Way. “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof becomes “Cashmaker” as the girls discuss why Fiddler has been revived yet again.

“There’s a Bright Golden Jukebox on Broadway,” is sung to the tune of “Oh, What a Beautiful Broadway,” addressing the trend of jukebox musicals such as Mamma Mia! and Lennon. The actor then converses with Yoko Ono about the recent production of Lennon, and she sings to the tune of “Imagine:”

“Imagine five John Lennons, when a seat you buy/ No gross below us, above tomatoes fly/ Imagine all the critics shrivel up and die.”

At times, the humor pushes the limit and becomes truly over the top. Audience members sensitive to the subject of mental disabilities might not be amused by the skit celebrating The Light in the Piazza, to which the cast gives the Tony Award of “Most Pompous New Musical.” Clara, the main character of the show, was kicked in the head by a horse when she was six, stamps her foot and neighs as she speaks, and her lover Fabrizio swears that he will feed her oats and hay to prove his devotion to her.

The Light in the Piazza, of which Alessandrini is an ardent admirer, is also spoofed for its notoriously difficult score and sensitivity to Clara’s secret. “Say It Somehow” becomes “Sing It Somehow,” and Clara’s mother brings down the house when she deadpans, “You’ll have to forgive her. She has a terrible secret that can’t be revealed until Act Two.”

There is a brief attempt to spoof Spamalot, the recent Monty Python hit which spoofs itself. After singing a verse of “The Song that Goes Like This,” one of the show’s veritable highlights, they angrily realize that they can’t spoof it, because the song is a satire already. The title then changes to “The Song They Stole From Us.”

If taken seriously, Forbidden Broadway may inspire the audience to swear off the theatre forever, viewing it as a machine of crass commercialism, empty of art. When the cast sings, “If you want ovations, work for corporations,” it may be difficult to choose between the desires to laugh or cry. However, the show inspires more cheer than fear, and it is the humor, not the music, of the night that remains with the audience after the curtain goes down.