In the hushed theater, a charismatic brunette in a plunging gown stretches out her arms and launches the familiar, haunting theme from Evita. But the words take a startling detour: “Don’t cry for me, Barbra Streisand,” bellows the actress. “The truth is I never liked you! You’ll do the movie, but what a bummer, when you sing Eva like Donna Summer…”
Tiny hands flutter to lips. “Have I said too much?” she whispers to her audience. Yes, of course, but actress Nora Mae Lyng’s transgression is the whole point of Forbidden Broadway. This satirical spoof of the New York stage features a cast of five and enough digs and darts to make some of Broadway’s sacred cows feel like sacrificial lambs.
The tart little revue at Palsson’s, a cozy Manhattan supper club, was cooked up by Gerard Alessandrini, 28, who also plays everyone from Yul Brynner to Kevin Kline. As a lugubrious Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, he mutters: “I’ve grown accustomed to this show, for it’s the only role I know…”
The evening is brief (80 minutes), but the laughs are long. A google-eyed, mop-headed orphan from Annie screeches: “Tomorrow, tomorrow…this song is redundant.” In a number dubbed Poor Warbling Star from The Pirates of Penzance, a pigeon-toed Linda Ronstadt impersonator sputters, “Where are my mikes? Where are the 36 speakers and 46 microphones?” A takeoff of Woman of the Year features a Lauren Bacall huskily crooning: “I’m one of the girls who sings like a boy. My voice is as low as the tunes I destroy…”
To the real-life stars themselves, there’s no question ’tis nobler to suffer Alessandrini’s slings and arrows. Ethel Merman and Mary Martin have already had the privilege of seeing themselves skewered. In a rendition of their celebrated 1977 Broadway charity benefit, a brassy, cow-voiced Ethel constantly tries to elbow a saccharine Mary offstage. “I’ve never pushed Mary aside in my life,” protests Merman, but she came away delighted, calling the show “all in good fun.” Stephen Sondheim, Hermione Gingold and George (Oh, God!) Burns slapped their knees too.
The last laugh goes to the wayward lyricist, Alessandrini, who has been writing Broadway parodies since his youth in Needham, Mass. The son of an opera singer turned beautician, Alessandrini graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1977. Then came six years in repertory and dinner theater (“I also have a heavy background in waitering”). “Broadway was always so inaccessible, as it is to most actors,” he laments. “It’s forbidden.”
Voilà, the title for the series of skits he worked on in odd moments. In June 1981 Alessandrini and actress Lyng wandered into Palsson’s about 2 a.m. for a drink. Appropriating the piano, they performed some numbers they had been rehearsing from Forbidden Broadway. The club’s booking manager, Michael Chapman, was smitten. He later signed on as their director and expanded the cast to include Wendee Winters, 25, a comedic actress, Fred Barton, 23, an alumnus of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Show, and Bill Carmichael, 27, who, as a pirate in Peter Pan, is the only member of the cast to have yet set foot on Broadway.
With little more room than the space shuttle, Palsson’s is sold out until July. Chapman, 26, is now planning Forbidden Broadway companies in London, Los Angeles and the Midwest. The cast members, meanwhile, still hold hands in their tiny shared dressing room before each performance and pray, “Dear God: Give us good houses. Make our voices soar. Thank you for past favors and if this isn’t asking too much…please let us have some laughs tonight. Amen.” Clearly, Someone up there is listening, even if it’s only George Burns.