Broadway Baby: October 2008

This election season we just can't get enough of Tina Fey's spookily spot-on Sarah Palin imitation in those hilarious SNL sketches. And a big part of the fun for us political junkies is the fact that Fey offers a more scathing critique of the Republican VP nominee than all the professional political pundits put together, bless her heart. Like all great satirists, Fey makes us giggle and at the same time makes us think about a topic that really matters. Next to progressive politics, of course, nothing matters more than our beloved Broadway, and luckily enough, for the past 27 years the Great White Way has had its own first rate satirist in Gerard Alessandrini, whose sketch revue Forbidden Broadway, has been sending up the ridiculous and the sublime of this business we call show since 1982. So it was a sad day indeed for us when the show's Alessandrini announced that the show's current incarnation, Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab, will be its last.

The good news is that critics are hailing this as Forbidden Broadway's strongest incarnation in years, and they are particularly gagging over the show's dynamite cast, which includes longtime PAPER pal Michael West, a hunky triple-threat type whose spot-on takes on everyone from Harvey Fierstein and Boyd Gaines to Liza Minnelli and Carole Channing to Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Bailey (!) have livened up past versions of Forbidden Broadway, as well as his own sick and twisted one-man shows like Live From the Betty Ford Clinic. Before hitting New York City in the early ‘90s and making a name for himself in off-Broadway productions like Whoop-Dee Doo! and When Pigs Fly, West sprang from the same Atlanta ‘80s underground music/performance scene that gave birth to Rupaul, the Lady Bunny, and yes, yours truly. So it was just like old times to sit down with West before one of last week's performances and find out what it feels like to go out there and tear Broadway a new one eight times a week.

First off though, we're dying to know how the muscle-bound West feels about having his impressive physique (as well as his “joker face”) singled out for praise by the Times' normally buttoned-up Ben Brantley his rave review. "Now I've been called a "hard body" by the New York Times I can get fat," says West with a chuckle. "I can just let it go." Brantley also raved about the strong material that Alessandrini has cooked up for the current show, and West heartily agrees. "Gerard really poured his heart into this one because it is the last one," he says. "It's some of my favorite material we've ever done. It's really fresh, and it has some bite that people say it maybe didn't have for a couple of years." As a veteran of numerous Forbidden Broadway productions, he ought to know. "I haven't been doing it for 27 years but I've been doing it for a long time" he says with a laugh. "I was trying to figure out how many performances I've done, and it's pushing 2,500.”

Lordy, that's a lot of spoofed egos he's left trailing behind him. So has he ever come face to face with an angry star outraged at being the target of Alessandrini's poison pen? On the contrary, West says. All the biggest names have caught the show over the years, including legends like Ethel Merman and Carol Channing -- "Carol has been many times" says West. "She's kind of like a patron saint of Forbidden Broadway." The fact is, West reveals, that Broadway stars are much likelier to be miffed at not being included in the show. "A lot of time people will contact Gerard and say 'Why aren't you doing me? Why am I not in it?" he says. "They want to be parodied!" These famous folks realize that imitation is the highest form of flattery and that scathing as some of the satire can be, in the end of course, West says, he and his FB cohorts are all fans, otherwise they wouldn't be doing what they do: "If you don't find something you love about the people you satirize, it's really hard to make fun of them -- your heart's not in it," says West. "I make fun of everybody I love -- personally and professionally."

We were saddened both personally and professionally by the announcement that another long-running fave of ours, the hit musical Hairspray, would close next January. But we dried our tears when we learned that Broadway royalty Harvey Fierstein will return to the role of Edna Turnblad, which he created and for which he took home a 2003 Tony, for the final six weeks of the run. If you missed Harvey the first time 'round, this is a rare second chance to catch a legendary stage turn, so don't press your luck, kids!

Thank gay god for some unalloyed positive news: we're poo-poo-ing in our pantyhose over the upcoming revival of the great Noel Coward comedy Blithe Spirit, featuring the dream pairing of two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole and stage and screen hunk Rupert Everett. Ebersole had us laughing and crying with her side-splitting/heart-breaking turn as Little Edie in Grey Gardens a couple of seasons back, and Everett, you may recall, nearly stole the show from no less a comic light than Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding, so we're expecting comic sparks to fly. In the meantime, let's all do our part to help Tina Fey get her wish and not have to keep doing her Palin imitation after November 4 -- and that means vote!

Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab, 47th Street Theatre, 304 W. 47th St., (212) 239-6200. Mon., Tues. & Wed. 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. 4 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. $60-65. Hairspray, Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., (212) 307-4100. Tues. & Thurs. 7 p.m.; Wed. 2 p.m.; Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. $75- 110. Blithe Spirit, Performances from Feb. 26, 2009. Theater & schedule TBA.

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