nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 6, 2009
Once a year or so, often at about this time, I would head over to the 47th Street Theatre (and, before that, to the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, or the basement at Ellen's Stardust Restaurant, or the Triad uptown) for my annual fix of Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway. That now-legendary revue lambasted the shows and stars of Broadway, and even when it missed its targets it always provided a pleasing mix of wicked parody, naughty celebrity gossip, and even a little necessary prodding and poking of sacred cows.
Well, Forbidden Broadway's gone, but in its place—by which I mean, occupying the same venue and employing three outstanding alumni of the Forbidden franchise—is Rick Crom's NEWSical. The songs are originals, music and lyrics (instead of the lyric parodies Alessandrini delivered); and the subject is not Broadway but the World in General. It's not so focused, satirically; and with very modest production values and direction, it's not as much of a hoot. But it delivers a solid evening of entertainment, if perhaps an uneven one.
The bill of fare here is topical parody in song and sketch. Some of the stuff at the performance I saw (and the expectation is that the material will constantly be updated, so you may not see exactly what I did) was very timely indeed: a couple of quips about Tiger Woods, a song about Oprah's impending retirement from TV, and even a sketch about Tareq and Michaele Salahi (entitled "Party at the White House").
Trouble is, in this era of blogging and twittering, topical topics have an increasingly short shelf life. Indeed, you may already be scratching your head and saying, "The Salahis? They're so last week!" One of the things that makes a show like NEWSical tough to do is the fact that we live in an age of instant information AND instant parody. Sketches about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the flu vaccine shortage, and the Balloon Boy simply have no teeth left. Lamer still are the pieces about botox (even with Christine Pedi doing a mean Joan Rivers), restless leg syndrome, and e-Harmony dating. And, good as Christina Bianco is, her Sarah Palin pales next to Tina Fey's definitive impression.
Now all that said, there is still some fun to be had in NEWSical. I mentioned that three of its four cast members are Forbidden Broadway vets—in addition to the aforementioned Pedi and Bianco, Michael West is on hand, joined by rookie Rory O'Malley. Where these folks shine is in skewering famous performers. The best piece in the show is a montage of celebrities taking unlikely jobs to ward off the recession. I'm not going to give away the punchlines, but this segment features West as John McCain and Dr. Phil, O'Malley as Glenn Beck and Susan Boyle, Bianco as Celine Dion, and Pedi as Liza Minnelli and Fran Drescher. The Drescher and Dion bits are absolutely inspired.
Pedi also takes on Nancy Grace and Suze Orman in sketches that unfortunately go on much too long, and Hillary Clinton in a piece that is the most misguided and unfunny of the evening. (Political satire tends to fall flat in NEWSical, unfortunately.) West gets a nice tour de force number early on in which he demonstrates how to impersonate various American presidents. He does a great Obama; Crom needs to stop worrying about having a white actor pretend to be a black president (George Kirby used to do John Wayne back in the '70s, for gosh sake; and what about Billy Crystal as Mohammed Ali and Sammy Davis, Jr.? Stop being so politically correct!).
The show, fun but scattershot, concludes with a favorite ditty of mine by Crom called "Denial." It's still rolling around inside my head.