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New York Theater

Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening

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Sure, Spring Awakening walked away with every major award a new musical can win. It's a box office hit and, more than that, a genuine sensation with young audiences. But only upon watching Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening -- the more than fitfully funny 25th-anniversary edition of the satirical musical revue -- did it register just how iconic Spring Awakening is.

Forbidden Broadway's muddled attempts at satire aside, its bread and butter is parody. As such comedy feeds off bold subjects, in recent seasons Gerard Alessandrini's troupe has been somewhat starved. Enter Spring Awakening, a vibrant banquet -- particularly for those who like to play with their food.

Consider the stark, somnambulistic staging of the opening number, with Wendla tracing her hands across her baby-doll-clad body. Here, as Valerie Fagan perfectly copies the gesture, she sings, "Mama, who bore me/Mama, my booby." Simple, silly, funny. In short, Forbidden Broadway at its best. Bill T. Jones' furiously frenetic choreography also takes some obvious but still amusing shots. More sly is the following exchange: "What's intimate relations?" "Well, you attach four ropes to a platform, pull it up into the air, then we both climb on."

The gleeful send-ups work well. Older routines still score (the tweaked Les Miz sequence continues to feature "God It's High" and the priceless turntable gags). Newer ones include Janet Dickinson as a pitch-perfect Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens and James Donegan as a smoldering Raúl Esparza crooning, "Somebody notice I'm hurt/Somebody notice I'm deep" in a riff on John Doyle's Company revival.

But Alessandrini can't help commenting on the trends that he -- like so many critics and seemingly so few paying audience members -- sees as whitewashing the once Great White Way. Specifically, he seems most irked by the dumbing down and Disneying up of Broadway, though he has little specific to say about it. With each joke recapitulating the last, it's a theme with scant variation.

Far sharper is a critique of soft-voiced, overamplified singing that catches The Phantom of the Opera in the headlights of that eternally essential bulldozer, Ethel Merman. Entering down the aisle as the Phantom huffs his way through "Music of the Night," the Merm bellows, "Sing out, Louise."

The evening's most intriguing moment, though, comes during a take on Spamalot's "The Song That Goes Like This." It doesn't take long to realize that Jared Bradshaw is singing the actual lyric -- and why shouldn't he? Alessandrini appropriately notes that it seems the self-aware ballad has been misappropriated from Forbidden Broadway.

This raises the evening's biggest question: With Broadway shows increasingly employing an element of mockery, what's left for Alessandrini and his prodigiously gifted roster of performers? Pray for a Spring Awakening. These days, Forbidden Broadway -- like Broadway itself -- needs icons, not irony.

Presented by John Freedson, Harriet Yellin, and Jon B. Platt in association with Gary Hoffman, Jerry Kravat, and Masakazu Shibaoka

at the 47th Street Theatre, 304 W. 47th St., NYC.

Opened Oct. 2 for an open run. Mon., Tue., and Fri., 8:15 p.m.; Wed., 2:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 and 8:15 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.

(212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www.telecharge.com.

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