Interview with Gerard Alessandrini Writer - Forbidden Broadway by Corine Cohen
Gerard: I was born in Boston Mass. I grew up in the suburbs in a pretty small town called Needham. (It’s adjoining Wellesley.)What inspired you to create Forbidden Broadway? Tell me the History of Forbidden Broadway.
Gerard: I wanted to create a kind of showcase for myself and several very talented friends of mine- like Nora Mae Lyng and Pete Blue. I already had a folder full of parodies lyrics about theater and decided to use those as the basis for an act. I thought this was a good & fresher idea because we could show off our voices singing great show tunes, but not with the same old lyrics that every young actor did in his club act. We first put the revue together at Palsson’s Supper Club in November 1981, with just Nora and I and the super talented Fred Barton on the piano. Sella Palsson who owned the club liked us so she & the booking agent for the club said they would let us appear on weekends if I added two more people to the act so it was more like a musical revue, rather than a nightclub act. I liked that idea because I had written a lot of extra material designed to be performed for three or four actors. These included the “Fiddler On The Roof” spoof called “Ambition” that was the finale of the show for seven years. We worked on the show in Nov. & Dec. 1981 to good response and then had an official "little" opening night in Jan 15, 1982. The only audience members were relatives of Nora and I…about twelve in all. Soon after that, however, Rex Reed stumbled into the club. He heard we had a nasty Lauren Bacall spoof. We did. It was a spoof of her in "Woman Of The Year" called "I'm One Of The Girls, Who's one of The Boys...because" well believe me it was nasty, but also very funny. Rex Reed evidently had some kind of on going feud with Lauren Bacall, and was eager to see her eviscerated. But He loved the whole show from Patti as "Evita" to Yul in his revival of " The King And I." Rex sat there watching the show laughing so hard he was weeping profusely and turning absolutely purple with delight. Soon after that he gave us a full-page rave review in the Daily News. We were packed after that. All the other press followed suit & we had a hit! But it was never officially produced! It was a real Mickey & Judy show! But no one knew who should get all the money. It was a mess. Strangely, we easily obtained the rights to use the music, but our own Actor’s Equity tried to close us down because we had no official contracts on file. It took months to sort it all out. Ultimately it hasn’t been to hard to figure out what do with the money, because we never really make much of a profit on the show. It's remained small so It only pays for itself. But I think Actor's Equity likes us now-this show has given employment to over two thousand actors over the years. But back in 1982, we only had an inkling of the long history this show would have. But I remember in February of 1982 alone dozens of stars & showbiz personalities came to see the show. Fans of the show included Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Patti Lupone, Adolph Green, Hal and Judy Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Carol Channing, George Burns, Ann Miller, Mike Nichols, Rex Harrison, Cher, Robin Williams, Tony Randell, Mary Tyler Moore, Jeremy Irons, Paul Simon, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Reeve, and Elizabeth Taylor! You think one of them would have given me another job in Show business!Were you always funny? Writing parodies takes incredible talent. What gives you your inspiration?
Gerard: Yes, I always enjoyed writing parodies and also original songs, novellas and plays. But I was a very serious child & young man. Very dedicated to performing & writing & also to classical music & legitimate voice training. I even wrote & directed a Hitchcock-like Super 8mm film that won a prize in The Kodak Teenage Movie Competition. I took myself very seriously. My cousin Madeline always said it was because I was so serious, that all that comedy came out…it had to come out somewhere. You said it takes incredible talent to write satirical parodies. In fact there is very little talent involved. Just an incredible amount of forethought, writing, rewriting, editing and sweating. At best it's a craft. And as for the inspiration? Seeing theater & listening to music helps.Sorry Gerard, talent has everything to do with it. You do "Glosse Fosse" the audience. The actors and actresses in Forbidden Broadway have become stars (example Jason Alexander) how many others have become famous?
Dee Hoty who is now starring in “Mama Mia.” Chloe Webb from “Tales In The City” Sid & Nancy’ and many other movies, was an original Cast member. Brad Oscar now in “The Producers” did the show for years here in NY and also in LA. Also of course, as you probably have heard, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Rene Zelwigger and Ewen Macgregor (nude) starred in our first Charleston S.C. production in the summer of 1985- before they were stars. John Edwards was their understudy! Can you believe it?! You don't? Good, you shouldn't.What were you like as a child?
Unfortunately, I was almost exactly the same as I am now. A little chubby, I looked 42 at 14, I wrote parody and real songs, and loved classical music and “The Sound Of Music” and “Camelot.” And as I am now, I was a social outcast. But I was very happy.Well, seeing FB for over 20 years makes us happy as well! Who is your favorite Broadway Celeb?
Too hard to pick one. Living? Yes, I love Channing as a brilliant satirical Chanteuse. Julie Andrews. Sondheim for his writing, Hal Prince as director, I Love Patti Lupone, Charles Busch’s plays and performances… also Neil Patrick Harris is a favorite new star. Past favorites are Merman, Yul Brynner and Richard Burton.You seem to always leave Carol Channing in every edition. Is Carol a favorite?
Yes! She’s a favorite. She’s almost in every version. But Ethel Merman is always somewhere in the show. On purpose.Well that is Swell and Great. For me it let's me know the show is over and I am sad. I don't look forward to the ending Merman song even if she is swell and great.
Which character is your favorite?
Scarlet O’Hara.Mine is Annie and Chita and Rita. Which is your favorite skit?
“Went With The Breeze” on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’… oh in “F.B.” you mean? The “Grim Hotel” skit. The “Chita-Rita” number. Currently I like “Wicked” and “Assassins” number."Chita and Rita" is my all time favorite but I have so many. I adore all of the "Good Riddance Les Miz" numbers (every version but 4 months more was my favorite). Do you have a favorite Broadway musical?
Very cruel to ask. It changes year to year.I miss the "Old Revivals" (Oklahoma number) It was really funny. Do you have a favorite Composer?
Perhaps “My Fair Lady” (probably still the best musical ever) or “Gypsy” or “Sweeney Todd” or… I know I really love “Oklahoma!” it's still so fresh! I also love “Kiss Me Kate” “Can-Can” “Ragtime” “Kismet” “Camelot” “Chicago” “A Little Night Music” “The Music Man” “Fiddler On The Roof” “The Most Happy Fella” and “The Producers” and I adore “Gigi” although it is a film musical, not a real B’way musical.
This week my favorite is Brahms. Puccini, Frederick Lowe, Cole Porter, Ravel, Sondheim, Korngold, Rodgers, Mozart, Verdi and Bernard Hermann tie for second place.I have seen every version of your show over the last 23 years. Which edition is your favorite?
My Favorite editions (on the whole) were the original in 1982 in New York, 1984 in Boston, 1985 In New York, 1990 in N.Y. “Forbidden Hollywood 1995 in LA" (not here in NY, “Strikes Back in N.Y. ( in 1996)”. Also the 2000 L.A. version called “Foridden Broadway Y2KLA” was probably the best & tightest “Forbidden Broadway” ever. Also I really love this 2004 “Summer Shock” edition- it’s nearly perfectly routine.Any funny stories that happened behind the scenes?
Yes, but it would take a book.Print it, I will buy it! Any backstage horrors?
Yes. But it would take a 15 volume set. Just remember what Edwin Booth said near the end of his life “Dying is easy-comedy is hard.”What is your least favorite musical?
“Forbidden Hollywood in New York in 1996” We ruined an excellent show. Also in Hell they play the cast album of “Walking Happy.”Tell me more about Summer Shock- It says in the clip that you will cover Assassins but it was not in the show. Why was it killed?
The “Assassins” number was waiting for costumes. It will be in no later than this Friday.Shoot! I missed it! Will Donna English come back to the show anytime soon or Christine Pedi?
No plans to have these two great Ladies back… I believe they have work lined up for a long while. We love the new girls, Jennifer & Val, however. But Christine & Donna will always be part of the “Forbidden” family and we all hope someday they will come back for a bit, or make a guest appearance.How do the stars and producers feel about being spoofed?
They seem to like it. Many laugh & smile & chat with us backstage. Any funny stories?Any Lawsuits?
No lawsuits in 23 years-knock on Wood!Corine Dana Cohen is associate producer of the Drama Desk Awards, a freelance writer. She hosted the TV show "Corine's Pixs," featuring the best theater, shopping and restaurants in New York City.
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