Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Riffing on a genre practically designed to be riffed about

Funny thing about today's Broadway spoof shows. The relatively newer one, The Musical of Musicals: The Musical, running now at Dodger Stages, plumbs the old standbys and legends for its material; whereas the one that's been around for two decades -- Forbidden Broadway -- is the one that's updated every so often to parody the latest shows.

But which one is funnier? Which one is better?

Having seen the latter this evening, I can say they both have their merits. But while the first one is a bit too dense with allusions for the average theatergoer, I felt like the second one was often too fluffy, and not on target as much as it could be. Part of this may be a result of its evolving nature. The same way the list in the back of your Playbill morphs each month, so too must a show of this kind keep changing if it wants to stay fresh. So in a way, Forbidden -- with the subtitle "Special Victims Unit" in its current incarnation -- has a harder task. While Musicals can nail the Rodgers & Hammerstein jokes over and over with precision, FB is often dealing with moving targets.

Sometimes this works, such as when it's making fun of British director David Leveaux's current production of Fiddler on the Roof, which was funny at first for having Alfred Molina in the lead role and has become funny for different reasons with its new star Harvey Fierstein.

Sometimes it doesn't, such as when they have a funny Thoroughly Modern Millie number (that pokes fun at Sutton Foster's irrepressible perkiness), but then try to hide the fact that this show closed almost a year ago by tacking on an uninspired spoof on La Cage that feels forced and seems a poor way to end the show.

Overall, though, I admire the cast and creators for trying so hard to remain current. Many of the bits tonight were well-written and put into song many of the oversized petty battles that provide off-stage entertainment and counterpoint to the New York theater world. At its heart, I imagine, this show has been able to riff on the same set of jokes (albiet in different costumes) for the span of its existence. After all, the Disneyfication of Times Square may still be relatively recent in the minds of many, but the big egos and melodramas, the glitz and glamour, the mixed-up priorities and out-of-whack perspectives, and the defining sexual orientation of Broadway have been standards against which to aim your satire for years now.

There is much good to be found in the theater, but even the best productions and our highest admirations for them deserve a little ribbing once in a while.

No comments: