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Tony Predictions from Broadway's 'Forbidden' Man


The Tony Awards for the best theater of 2006-2007 will be handed out tonight and there's a good crop of nominees. This past season, 11 new plays, a dozen new musicals, and another dozen revivals made it to Broadway. Now, it's not our style to predict who will take home the evening's top prizes. It is our style to let someone else go out on a limb, and reporter Jeff Lunden found just the man for the job.

JEFF LUNDEN: For 25 years, Gerard Alessandrini has made it his business to follow the ups and downs of Broadway and make fun of it.

(Soundbite of musical, "Forbidden Broadway")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) There's a great white way where all the white is gray and the great is only okay. And the stars we toast, give themselves a rose.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Forbidden Broadway.

LUNDEN: Alessandrini is the creator of "Forbidden Broadway," the popular off-Broadway review, which spoofs Broadway's hit shows and famous personalities.

Mr. GERARD ALESSANDRINI (Creator, "Forbidden Broadway"): You know, we can't spoof the flops. You can really only spoof the shows that people sing, so if you're a hit off-Broadway, you're usually in there with good company, usually the Tony Award-winning musical for Best Musical and it's like kicking when they're up, not down. And I would kick them when they're down - nobody gets it.

(Soundbite of musical, "Forbidden Broadway")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Don't cry for me Barbara Streisand. The truth is I never liked you.

LUNDEN: When "Forbidden Broadway" opened, "Evita" staring Patti LuPone was all the rage. Since then, Gerard Alessandrini has gone to see practically every show that's opened on Broadway. An expensive proposition since he usually pays for the tickets himself. Over the years, he's trapped Broadway trends with a loving, but merciless eye, skewering the biggest hits by taking music from them and writing parody lyrics. "Les Miserables" didn't escape his poisoned darts.

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: It's a great, easy target. It's about one of the French revolutions and it's a very serious story. And it's just chalk full of melodramatic aspects and theatrical aspects, so it's a very spoofable.

(Soundbite of musical, "Forbidden Broadway")

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Valjean's (Unintelligible) his song too high. (unintelligible), change the king(ph). Bring it down.

LUNDEN: This year's crop of Tony nominees are about to get the Alessandrini treatment in a new edition of "Forbidden Broadway." At a break during rehearsals, he talked about the past season.

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: I thought that this was a very substantial season, and one of the most exciting that I can remember.

LUNDEN: Alessandrini had some predictions about who will win the Tony Awards, beginning with best play.

(Soundbite of musical, "Coast of Utopia")

Mr. ETHAN HAWKE (Actor): (As Mikhail Bakunin) Victor(ph), they're trying to get rid of objective reality, but Hagel(ph) shows that reality can't be ignored.

LUNDEN: That's Ethan Hawke in the "Coast of Utopia," Tom Stoppard's three-part epic of Russian intellectual history, which many believe will win the award. But Alessandrini has a different pick.

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: If I have to guess, I would say "Radio Golf" because "Coast of Utopia" isn't running and I think people are aware of that. And I think, you know, August Wilson, that's his last play and it's an American play.

LUNDEN: "Radio Golf" was the final installment of August Wilson's 10-play cycle about African-Americans in the 20th century.

Unidentified Man #3: If you get to be mayor, you're going to be the mayor of the black folks or the white folks?

Unidentified Man #4: If I would, I'm going to be the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. I'm going to be the mayor of all the people.

LUNDEN: As for best actor in a play, Alessandrini thinks the Tony is a race between Liev Schreiber's (Unintelligible) as a tortured radio personality in "Talk Radio" and Frank Langella as a tortured ex-president in "Frost/Nixon."

(Soundbite of musical, "Frost/Nixon")

Mr. FRANK LANGELLA (Actor): (As Richard Nixon) I let down my friends; I let down the country; I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get in the government that it will think it's all too corrupt and the rest. I made so many bad judgments.

LUNDEN: But the economic engine of Broadway is its musicals. And the biggest and potentially most lucrative prize every year is the Tony Award for Best Musical. Alessandrini has been feverishly writing parodies about the nominees for the new edition of "Forbidden Broadway."

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: We definitely want to do "Spring Awakening" and "Grey Gardens" and "Mary Poppins," they're nominated musicals, because I think they will be around for a while. I think people will be talking about them.

(Soundbite of musical, "Mary Poppins")

Ms. ERIN CROSBY (Actress): (Singing) Mary Poppins came to town with intellectual blush. So many Disney characters, you'll get a sugar rush. There's Lion King and Tarzan, Mrs. Potts and Little Bill(ph). You'll think you're at a Broadway show, but you're in Disney hell. It's a (Unintelligible), even though the sound of it may give it a (Unintelligible). Using it will put you in a state of (unintelligible).

LUNDEN: That's Erin Crosby doing the freshly minted "Mary Poppins" parody in "Forbidden Broadway." Creator Gerard Alessandrini says he admires all the nominees, but he has no question about which show will win.

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: Well, Best Musical is easy. It's "Spring Awakening" and it is the best musical of the year. "Spring Awakening" has the reviews; it's very groundbreaking; it's very different; it's very real; it's a real flesh and blood musical, which we haven't had in a while.

LUNDEN: "Spring Awakening" by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater is the story of adolescent angst and sexuality, set in 19th century Germany with a 21st century old rock score. And the songs often used words that can't be mentioned on the air.

(Soundbite of musical, "Spring Awakening")

Unidentified Man #5: (Singing) There's a moment you know, you (bleep). Not an inch more room to self-destruct.

LUNDEN: Alessandrini's parody of "Spring Awakening" asks whether the show's sensibilities will play in Peoria.

Unidentified Group #2: Will it be all right and every night when the young adults will wonder why, total eclipse, but we still get high so come on, give us a try.

LUNDEN: After 25 years of sticking his finger in Broadway's eye, Alessandrini finally was invited to the grownups' table when he was a given a special Tony honor for "Forbidden Broadway" last fall.

Mr. ALESSANDRINI: They gave me this big, private party at Tavern on the Green and it was presented by Angela Lansbury. Actually, I was kind of surprised because people have (Unintelligible), but I thought that they wouldn't do that for a show that's sort of skewed Broadway for all these years. But I'm glad that they have a good sense of humor and was extremely honored by it.

LUNDEN: "Forbidden Broadway," the "Roast of Utopia" starts performances this Wednesday. The Tony Awards are on CBS this evening at 8:00 p.m.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of musical, "Forbidden Broadway")

Unidentified Group #3: Don't forget the Broadway classics, shocking in their day. (Unintelligible) hair and (unintelligible). "Cabaret" and "West Side Story" shook up everything. Maybe the new "Chorus Line" is "Spring Awakening." We'll be brief all right and every night, where the young adults will wonder why. Total eclipse, but we still get high so come on, give us a try. Total eclipse.

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden
Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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