Gerard Alessandrini has been writing spoofs of Broadway musicals and stars since Forbidden Broadway made its Off-Broadway debut in 1982. Twenty-five editions of the award-winning revue have played around the world in the nearly 40 years since that time. The latest version from Alessandrini, the critically acclaimed Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation, took its final bow at The Triad in December and resumes performances January 15 at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s for a limited engagement through February 16.
We recently asked Forbidden creator-writer-director Alessandrini, who is the recipient of a Drama League Lifetime Achievement Award and a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre, to pen a list of his most memorable theatregoing experiences. His choices follow.
Glynis Johns in A Little Night Music
Her performance as Desiree has never been topped. She has just the right combination of glamour and comedic daring. On the one hand, she was brilliantly witty and very touching, and heartbreaking on the other. Her dramatic interpretation and unique voice singing “Send in the Clowns” will never leave my memory or be surpassed.
Christopher Plummer in Cyrano (1973 musical)
The Anthony Burgess translation used in this 1973 musical, for which he also penned the lyrics, is considered by far the best English version of Cyrano de Bergerac. In fact, it’s now used, sans music, by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Christopher Plummer probably knew so and gave the show 200 percent. His athletic energy and star presence are unsurpassed in the role. His singing was fairly good, but his dramatic interpretations of the lyrics such as “I Never Loved You” was utterly superb. Listen to his Tony Award-winning performance on the original Broadway cast album.
Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! (1994 revival)
Her iconic portrayal and interpretation were so unique and true they have guided and inspired every Dolly since. It’s no doubt she was as close in real life to the real Dolly as possible, spreading joy, wisdom, and songs everywhere she went. What amazed me most about Carol’s performance in later years is not so the much the dazzling musical numbers, but the monologues she delivered when she speaks/prays to her dead husband, Ephraim. So, touching, real, and beautiful.
Kenneth Branagh in Henry V
I saw this performance in London, when Mr. Branagh first performed this role. He was not yet a star name and had yet to film his movie version. He was so charismatic, energetic, and his diction was so crisp and beautiful, it was astounding. He also had a virility that made you totally believe he was a warrior king who could conquer France simply using Shakespearean verse!
This was one of the most fascinating and intense performances Ms. Jones ever gave, and that’s saying a lot! So deep and sub-textual it catapulted this fine drama into the superb. I have always mourned the fact that Ms. Jones never re-created the role in the movie version. Her performance was so much more realistic, riveting, and unique than the somewhat campy performance given by Ms. Streep in the film.
Nora Mae Lyng in Forbidden Broadway
Nora Mae Lyng was a true comic genius in every sense. She had a singular mixture of glamour and crassness that was startling and hysterical. Perfect for parody. I have never seen or encountered an actress with better comic timing. She also had a forceful and incredibly high belt voice that even surpassed Ethel Merman! Don’t forget, her unique star qualities launched Forbidden Broadway into being the longest-running revue of all time. It was her talent and persona that inspired me to create and write FB, and even today I think of her talents when I am writing a new number.
His star quality, dramatic acting skill, and beautiful voice made Coalhouse Walker Jr. come to life with a tremendous force and unsurpassed power. In Ragtime, he had formidable stage presence and dignity. He also has a great humanity that comes through in all his work, but most beautifully in the fine musical version of Ragtime. He was magnificent and emotionally moving.
Brian Bedford in The School for Wives
In the 1970’s, Brian Bedford made quite a stir with his Molière performances. His School for Wives was joyfully funny and miraculously witty. Mr. Bedford’s impish and mischievous quality was perfect for the smooth, foxy story and perfect for this Richard Wilbur translation of Molière. In fact, Mr. Wilbur’s rhyming couplets made my lyric-writing heart rejoice. But it was Mr. Bedford’s perfect and ingenious performance that made it all so memorable.
Charles Busch in The Divine Sister
Charles is not only a great comedian but has the heart, mind, and talent equal to any of the greatest female stars of the 20th century. In The Divine Sister, his wit and fabulous writing was unbelievably funny, yet when he incorporated into this show the recognition scene from the play Anastasia, he was more touching and brilliant than Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar-winning performance! I hear his next upcoming role is even better. Also, Julie Halston’s brilliant performance in this and everything else is a great “best,” too!
When Ms. Peters took on the role of Sally in the last Broadway revival of Follies, it clarified so much for me about the role as it’s written. She seemed to be truly “Losing Her Mind.” It was a courageous choice, and that is what a great performance is all about, isn’t it? Daring and thrilling choices! Ms. Peters’ voice also sublimely fit Sondheim’s great songs for Sally, performed with abandon and great depth. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen her do…and that’s impressive!
Five great performances that would be on the above list if I had seen them…