Lifesongs revue deflates Broadway icons

September 27, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

NEW YORK'S hottest off-Broadway ticket, "Forbidden Broadway," dares to lampoon the stars and plots of musical theater's sacred cows.

In the Big Apple's longest-running revue (now in its 10th year and currently playing at Theatre East), some of the biggest hits -- "The Phantom of the Opera," "Miss Saigon," "The Secret Garden," "Will Rogers Follies," "Grand Hotel" -- are broadly parodied by the show's creator, Gerald Alessandrini, a professional actor and singer.

No one is spared his sharp satirical pen.

"I guess I have a sardonic sense of humor," said Alessandrini in an interview from his New York home. "That's what my friends tell me. I use the music from the various shows and write new lyrics.

"The words are not vicious," he added, laughing. "They are just tantalizing enough to be funny. The point of view is clear. It is flippant, upstart humor rather than sour grapes."

A 20-minute excerpt of the show will highlight the presentation of "Lifesongs, 1991" tomorrow at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Actor Ben Vereen heads the bill, which includes female stand-up comedian Rita Rudner. The fourth annual concert-benefit will support HERO and its fight against HIV/AIDS.

"The Baltimore segment will probably be a spoof on Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno from 'West Side Story,' with mock scenes from 'Fiddler on the Roof' and 'Les Miz,' " said Alessandrini.

Personalities skewered in the musical burlesque may include such show biz greats as Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, Mary Martin, Lauren Bacall and Ann Miller. The young players are gotten up in exaggerated makeup and costumes to resemble the stars.

"The costumes are as much a parody as the numbers themselves," said Alessandrini. "Over the years 'Forbidden Broadway' has executed takeoffs on 200 musical numbers."

The show was first conceived as a night club act for a supper club in Manhattan featuring Alessandrini and a friend.

"We used standard songs in a new way with a collection of parody lyrics," he said. "It seemed a good idea and it just blossomed into a revue."

One of Alessandrini's newest travesties is "Swillomania," a burlesque of the current Tony Award-winning show "Will Rogers Follies." "That's just because it is Will," said Alessandrini. "It is a twist, a play on words.

"The more hype a show gets, the better," he said. "We call 'Grand Hotel' 'Grim Hotel' and perform a parody of the chairs number and the introduction of characters.

"The young people who interpret these numbers must have classical voices and be extremely versatile," he pointed out. "They have to do all types of singing. Some of the actors are better singers than the stars they are spoofing."

About once a year the musical undergoes a major revision to bring it up to date. "We put in a new addition in June," said Alessandrini, who sometimes steps in if a singer has to drop out.

"Right now the show is fresh and topical. We parody the helicopter from 'Saigon' and the chandelier from 'Phantom.' They are the two biggest stars on Broadway," he quipped.

Alessandrini started writing lyrics as a child of 10 or 12 growing up outside of Boston. He graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music with a degree in musical theater and took off for New York in 1978.

His acting experience includes summer stock and regional theater. A solid baritone won him leading roles in productions of "Oklahoma," "Carousel" and other standard shows.

Today he specializes in his own night club act playing a variety of comic characters.

As for the future, "Comedy writing for TV is in the works," he said. "I am also plotting out 'Forbidden Hollywood,' which I plan to do in L.A. next year, implementing parodies on classic stars and movies and contemporary box office hits such as Kevin Costner's 'Robin Hood,' which I call 'Robin Dude.' "

"We also might send out another touring company," he said. "Last year's tour was a great success. The only other troupe out right now is in Honolulu."

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