There’s no business like show business when it comes to subject matter ripe for satirizing, and that’s precisely what Gerard Alessandrini has made baskets of money doing since his “Forbidden Broadway” first opened in 1982. In the intervening years it has been updated and revised many times, and numerous spinoffs have been launched. And even if most of the paying customers in seats way, way, way off-Broadway miss many (if not most) of the inside jokes scattered throughout the revue, they certainly seem to love it anyway.
At least that’s how I’ve interpreted audience reactions every time I’ve seen the show over the years – including at the recent opening night performance at Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater. Because while only a few, theater-savvy folks in the audience laughed consistently (and loudly) at the “backstage gossip” regarding certain “legendary” artists or events in New York theater history, the audience certainly applauded loudly after each number – and gave the show one of the quickest (and most complete) standing ovations I’ve seen in ages.
The show’s premise is quite simple: Take familiar Broadway show tunes, rewrite the lyrics to poke fun at the shows (or their pretentiousness), add some witty banter and representative costume pieces to tie the concept together, and then let the director and the actors have a blast mining it for laughs.
It’s a recipe that director Chad Badgero, musical director John Dale Smith and costumer Holly Speers have mixed well at the BoarsHead.
While light on some of the usual accouterments one normally finds associated with a musical revue – there’s no set except for a raised platform center stage, and a lone accompanist is tucked to one side – the BoarsHead instead spent its resources on a fine ensemble that launches out of the gate at breakneck speed and never stops except for intermission. The result is a slick, nicely sung and often quite funny night of theater – with only a few minor bumps along the way.
The production is at its best – and gets the best response from the audience – when familiar characters or stars appear.
Janine Novenske Smith couldn’t be funnier as a cigarette-smoking, 30-year-old Annie, and she knocks one out of the park as “Barbara” going “Back to Broadway.”
Ellen Campbell is perfect as a doddering Carol Channing. Later, she does a near-perfect impersonation of Liza.
Certain spoofs of recent shows come off well, too.
Ladder-climbing Emily Sutton-Smith earns big laughs as the witch in one of the most memorable scenes from “Wicked,” while Paul Riopelle and Sutton-Smith enchant while poking fun of “Spamalot.”
Most impressive, however, is the “Les Miserables” medley that closes Act 1 – and the fact that all five actors made the imaginary turntable look real and functional.
Not all numbers were successful, however. “Chita/Rita” started out visually boring, for example, and would benefit from a choreographer. And since wireless microphones were not used, John Dale Smith’s otherwise amazing accompaniment occasionally drowned out the singers. (Seated on the edge of house right, this occurred whenever some performers were facing away from me.)
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. Wednesday-Sunday through April 5. $17-$35. 517-484-7805. http://www.boarshead.org.