If, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then “Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking!” is flattery with a nudge and a wink. The comedic theatrical parody now at Feinstein’s pokes good-natured fun at the foibles of the Great White Way.
It is the current traveling edition of a three-decade-old franchise born from the fertile and rhyming mind of Gerard Alessandrini.
Given the normally short attention span of the entertainment industry, Alessandrini finds this longevity a large blessing with a small genre-driven curse. “It’s parody, so I have to update it every year or every few months. It’s not like I wrote ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and I can just let it run and go on to the next show. So it’s two-edged, but certainly is wonderful.”
The shows use existing music paired with Alessandrini’s custom lyrics to spotlight a quirky trend, a diva’s personality tic or some other potentially humorous situation. He finds his best inspiration in classic material.
“I try to make the lyrics neat,” he says, “to keep to the rhythm and keep the accent on the right place. It is easier to do a classic Broadway songwriter like Cole Porter or even Sondheim, because they’ve laid out where the punch line goes and how many words are in a phrase. Their form is so much cleaner.”
“I parodied ‘Once,’ which is a very serious, romantic show and which will be in the production in San Francisco. I looked at the score, and thought, ‘Where are the rhymes? I don’t see where the rhymes are!’ Then I realized there aren’t really any,” he laughs. “I could only find six rhymes in the whole score and I think those are just accidental!”
The popularity of revivals of classic musicals is a blessing for him. “They had forms that were developed over hundreds of years. They communicate better and audiences can follow them better. So it’s always easy to parody a revival.”
Classic supersized personalities from Ethel Merman and Carol Channing to Patti LuPone were also rich for parody. They became a “Forbidden Broadway” staple and Alessandrini is finding it hard among current Broadway headliners to pick out the icons to pick apart.
“I do miss the era of stars. Where’s the new Bernadette Peters? Nowadays a lot of the stars are sort of interchangeable. I guess we have Idina Menzel, but it just seems like we don’t have the imitatable stars that we used to have even 10 or 15 years ago. Maybe some of the talent we have nowadays will actually grow into more unique stars.”
As soon as they do, Alessandrini will no doubt be waiting with pointed pen in hand.
IF YOU GO
Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking!
: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 220 Mason St., S.F.
: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; closes July 27
: $45 to $60
: (866) 663-1063, www.ticketweb.com