Cast and crew of "Forbidden Broadway"
The cast and crew of “Forbidden Broadway” at North Coast Rep. Photo by Aaron Rumley

If you know who Ethel Merman, Carol Channing and Robert Goulet are (er, were), you’re gonna love “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits.”

The witty satire of all things musical from the Great White Way does include skewering of “Frozen,” “Dear Evan Hansen” (“Dear Evan Has-Been”) and “Once” — shows spawned in this century — but mostly, it’s all about the Oldies: “Phantom,” “The Lion King,” “Les Miz,” etc.

It isn’t easy taking a show like this around the country — and the world! The targets have to be big enough and familiar enough for the amusingly poisoned darts to land. But mostly that means that the target audience has to lean toward the older demographic. Where is the rap of “Hamilton” when we need it? 

That said, this rendition of the lovingly cutting revue features a quartet of seasoned “FB” veterans, and they do deliver the goods. 

For director/performer William Selby, this is the 20th production he’s directed. He started performing in the show in 1985. The force behind these spot-on musical parodies, Gerard Alessandrini, has been at it since 1981. Given the heightened awareness of color in the country, it’s time for “Forbidden Broadway” to diversify. But that’s another story for another day.

For my money, Alessandrini, who created “Forbidden Broadway,” “Forbidden Hollywood” and “Spamalot,” is a genius, deserving of his many awards and accolades, including Special Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre.

He knows musical theater, having begun as an actor, appearing in the first incarnation of “FB.” And he knows his way around a deliciously nasty, slightly raunchy lyric and rhyme; he could wring a laugh out of even the most skeptical and curmudgeonly among us. As long as they know the referents.

Alessandrini’s gift is taking songs from known shows and twisting them into hilarious knots.

Of course, it’s not always in the best of taste. This time (I’ve seen several versions of the show), the problem was timing. The (overly long) sendup of Liza Minelli seemed a bit creepy after we just saw her confused, befuddled and in a wheelchair, on Oscars night.

“Mary Poppins” takes a few hits, including of its signature song, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (“Stupid, sappy, super-careless fictional verboseness”) and a long parody of its much lesser-known “Feed the Birds” (“Feed the Burbs,” an allusion to Broadways’ relentless catering to non-Manhattanites from the outer-boroughs (and New Jersey and Connecticut), theatergoers who pretty much, along with Midwestern tourists, keep splashy musicals (jukebox and otherwise) alive.

The recently departed but hugely influential Stephen Sondheim is given only a few mentions, but no songs. Even with a big chunk of time given to Bernadette Peters, who’s better known for her work in Sondheim shows than in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1982 “Song and Dance” (“See Me on a Monday,” instead of “Tell Me on a Sunday,” about her waning voice and likely absence over the course of a week of performances).

There are tons of self-referential and insider jokes, and mentions of (to some) arcane quirks and characters: Colm Wilkinson’s rings, (Harvard’s) Hasty Pudding club, acting coach (Lee) Strasberg, playwright (Anton) Chekhov, the fictional Hedda Gabler, and on and on. 

There’s even a factual error, which is surprising given Alessandrini’s astute attention to detail. Bebe Neuwirth was not the original star of “Chicago”; Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera were, though Neuwirth would go on to play both their roles.  

Speaking of Rivera, she gets the funny “My name is Chita, and not Rita” song (a riff on “America”) about the two wonder-women who won awards for playing Anita in “West Side Story,” and in a nice little update, they add in the latest Oscar-winning Anita, Ariana DeBose. 

Some memorable highlights: the physical toll of the cumbersome costumes in “The Lion King” (“Can You Feel the Pain Tonight?”) and the penchant for humans playing animals (using a song from “Flower Drum Song,” “I Enjoy Being a Girl” for “I Enjoy Bein’ a Cat”), or using puppets (“You need a cloth cojone if you want a Tony”), and the ubiquity of amplification onstage now, when Ethel Merman and her famous lung power could always reach the back row, unembellished, no matter how big the house. 

As for the chameleon cast, Cathy Barnett totally nails Merman, and Trisha Rapier kills as Barbra Streisand. Edward Studenmayer is an off-pitch-perfect Robert Goulet, and Selby reaches into the vocal stratosphere for the lampoon of “Les Miz’s “God on High” (“God it’s high; this song’s too high!”). 

The consummate pianist Elan McMahan adds her huge talent and winning personality as the indefatigable accompanist.

The set (Marty Burnett), lighting (Matthew Novotny) and sound (Aaron Rumley, deliberately heavy on the reverb), all lean aptly toward schmaltzy-cheesy. The costumes (designed by Dustin Cross, with local consultation by Elisa Benzoni) are often very funny and spoofy themselves. 

No doubt about it, if musicals are your thang, this one’s for you.

  • Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits” runs at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Dr. in Solana Beach, through May 22 
  • Performances are Wed. and Sun at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. (and an extra Wed. matinee on May 11)
  • Tickets ($57-$60) are available at 858-481-1055 or 
  • Running time: 2 hrs. (including intermission)
  • COVID Protocol: Proof of vaccination and masks are no longer required, but masks are recommended. 

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at