'Forbidden Broadway' returns, thankfully

Natalie Charle Ellis (from left), Marcus Stevens and

Natalie Charle Ellis (from left), Marcus Stevens and Jenny Lee Stern in "Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking." (Credit: AP)

Say you're the theater's notorious, merciless, fabulous satire, "Forbidden Broadway," finally back after your beloved and a little feared creator-writer-co-director, Gerard Alessandrini, abandoned the lampoon mission for what could have been forever but turned out to be three years.

The plastic tarp is about to be ripped off the piano. The tacky silver strands of cabaret curtain appear as if they never had been packed away. The programs -- as always, chillingly titled Playkill -- are distributed to pumped audiences. They have, after all, been heard whimpering for the return of the only cultural institution that has thrived for 30 years by devouring its own -- with sharp teeth, a knowing palate and, very deep down, a big heart.

No spoiler alert here. I'm not going to tell you how "Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking" comes back to life for a limited run at the appropriately scruffy 47th Street Theatre. Rest assured, however, that the opening number rises from the mist with just the right combination of musical honor and wondrous hokum.

Not all the sketches are prime Alessandrini, but enough are treasures that make it hard to resist ruining the jokes by repeating them for you. Suffice it to say that the new cast -- Natalie Charle Ellis, Scott Richard Foster, Marcus Stevens and, extra specially, Jenny Lee Stern -- is another gifted quartet of ridiculous chameleons.

I'm blaming an occasional lack of focus on the sheer number of follies and felonies that have been piling up and begging for comment in the last three years. The show has more than 20 sketches, which means we get more quick hits than the kind of delirious in-depth scenes Alessandrini did for "Les Miz." The most ambitious and sharply observed is the "Once," as one player brags, "so unpretentious that we're pretentious."

Oldies about "Mary Poppins" and Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 2010 Tonys are snoozers compared with shrewd news about "Newsies," a litigious Julie Taymor and Bono caught in the Spider guy's web, director Diane Paulus' trashing Gershwin orchestrations in "Porgy and Bess," and Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin's admiring one another a bit too passionately in their Broadway duet.

The "Smash" skit feels as if it's there just to be there. But if we clap our hands and believe in "Forbidden Broadway," maybe it won't go away again.


WHAT "Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking"

WHERE 47th Street Theatre, 304 W. 47th St., Manhattan

INFO $29-$79; 212-239-6200; forbiddenbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE Not all prime, but still a treasure

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