Broadways and Means

Nobody'd dare offer Gerard Alessandrini a dish of sand, though— he'd throw it back in your face, with a suitable sneer. For well over a decade, his Forbidden Broadway revues have been nasty little Davids, kicking down those deadly musical Goliaths. Now settled in a new midtown location, he's taking on the new Times Square. F.B. Cleans Up Its Act is as dark a show as Alessandrini has turned out— the only edition ever to contain a political figure. Giuliani, of course: He disrupts the opening spoof of Cabaret to demand 60 percent family entertainment, which immediately causes the arrival of Julie Andrews, in full Mary Poppins fig, for a tour of our local Disney world. Her conclusion: Too bland is worse than too sleazy.

The darkness continues as Alessandrini roasts Chicago's cheapness in charging top prices for a concert staging, Footloose's amateurish inanity ("Grease without the sex or fun"), The Lion King's injury-abetting designs and lack of human characters. The Beauty Queen's stars maul each other with slapsticks while warbling, "How Are Things in Irish Drama?"; Ragtime's Brian Stokes Mitchell threatens to hold the cast hostage till he gets a Tony ("Make them shoot you," his costars advise); and another bit of Mary Poppins salutes "super-frantic, hyperactive, self-indulgent Mandy" Patinkin. For a finale, Cabaret's one-note sordidness and The Sound of Music's gooey inanity get tangled together.

Alessandrini's tone has often been this sharp, but rarely for so much of the evening; the proportion of actual satire to showbiz japery is so high here that the numbers joshing individual performers seem unusually cruel. His somber tone is justified. Broadway has always catered heavily to tourists, and the machine-made shows of the last two decades, with their heavy group marketing and worldwide replication, have taken the habit to new heights. Until Giuliani, though, Times Square had always had a distinct personality: The theaters clustered in it might produce this or that kind of show, but they remained an organic part of the city's life, and sooner or later would revert back to their local connections. Giuliani's revamped midtown blocks, in effect, turn the area into a tourist mall, where native New Yorkers will want to spend as little time as possible. More and more, the three cartels that own the Broadway theaters will peddle tourist goods, instead of shaping their taste, as theaters do where they function as part of civilization, in response to their community. When On the Town was first produced, musicals meant something to New York that they did not mean anywhere else, no matter how many outsiders might enjoy them. Well on its way to losing its individual meaning as a place, the theater district may at the same time be losing its ability to create— ironically— the kind of theater that first turned it into a site tourists wanted to visit. If it's just like the malls back home, offering the same mechanized shows, why schlep to New York?

Mary Testa, Perry Laylon Ojeda, and significant glassware in On the Town: our urban craziness as the characters' problem, and their ultimate joy
Michael Daniel
Mary Testa, Perry Laylon Ojeda, and significant glassware in On the Town: our urban craziness as the characters' problem, and their ultimate joy

Details

On the Town
By Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Gershwin Theatre
Broadway and 51st Street
307-4100

Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act
By Gerard Alessandrini
Stardust Theatre
Broadway and 51st Street
239-6200


1998­99 Obie Award Judges

Director Liz Diamond, performer Dael Orlandersmith, P.S. 122 head Mark Russell, and NYU department of drama chair Una Chaudhuri will be joining Voice critics Michael Feingold and Alisa Solomon and Voice theater editor Brian Parks as judges for the 1998­99 Obie awards. Charles McNulty returns as secretary to the committee. This season's award ceremony will be held May 17, 1999.

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