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On the Scene: The Freedom of 'Forbidden'

August 25, 2005 By:
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He's shot out the lights of the "Phantom" chandelier; sent a carpenter to "Fiddler on the Roof" for an estimate; and had the daughter show up for "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow."

All figuratively speaking, of course.

But then, John Freedson figures prominently in the success of the iconoclastic "Forbidden Broadway," where, despite its title, everything is fair game - and talking of game, wasn't that a deer caught in the headlights of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"?

As producer for the past 15 years of a musical mishugas that would poke fun at Pokémon if he ever dared to tread the boards of Broadway, the native of Reading, Pa., gives line readings to shows that few others will ever find in the show's book.

Freedson offs Broadway off-Broadway, and is doing it again at a new home, the 47th Street Playhouse in New York, site of the 2005 Drama Desk Award-winning "Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit."

Ching-ching! "What we offer is a certain meanness with a certain affection and reverence," says Freedson of the fun-filled fireworks in which famous shows are sent up attached to a rocket … lovingly. "It's all tongue-in-cheek … with some sour grapes quality."

Sour grapes produce the best whine it seems, based on the 20-year plus history of "Forbidden Broadway," which owes its vintage venom to Gerard Alessandrini, who created it and maintains the show's sardonically scintillating edge, serving as a curator protecting it from hardening of the artifacts.

"Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit"? Munch on this: Some of the spoof's biggest fans are those who are its special victims.

"Steven Sondheim comes every year," says the producer of the composer whose pacific overtures to the company include a request "to make it meaner."

An Equal-Opportunity Offender
Sacred cows make for the best chopped meat … and maybe chopped liver. A fan favorite has been "Fiddler on the Roof," the current hit revival in which the very gentile Alfred Molina received some less than gentle notices for his portrayal of the Jewish milkman.

Milk that? For "Forbidden Broadway," such casting was a miracle of miracles! "It was great," says Freedson of the spoof which had Tevye/Molina appear on stage, opining in the opening number, "A 'Fiddler' with no Jew … sounds crazy, no?"

When Molina's very Jewish successor, Harvey Fierstein, whose gay and carefree image is perhaps more associated with plumage than phalactory, took over Tevye, "Forbidden Broadway" went straight … for the vernacular and the jugular, with "If I were a straight man … "

And then there was the "Jewish Meryl Streep," says Freedson affectionately of Tovah Feldshuh, who was gold in their hands dressed as her Tony Award-nominated Golda Meir singing, "Tovah, Tovah, Tovah" to the tune of "Joey, Joey, Joey" from "The Most Happy Fella."

Who could be happier with such success than Freedson, who, as a youngster, had his own rah-rah team of cheerleaders at the Rajah Theater, where the Reading Civic Opera Society produced a bounty of Broadway musicals, including "Mame." That show-stopper of a musical was the beginning for the youngster.

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"It was wonderful," he recalls of playing Patrick to Claire Goldberg's Mame, who was his on-stage "auntie" and off-stage advisor/inspiration. "It may as well have been on Broadway," he says of the experience.

Or at least synagogue. "My mother treated the event like it was my second Bar Mitzvah."

That raised the bar for future efforts, even when Freedson attended Brandeis University. His pre-med plans suddenly got an injection of musical-theater therapy: "I knew I didn't want to do anything else."

And what he's done since has been astounding. If there's one thing "Forbidden Broadway" has allowed Freedson, it's the freedom to try things and to think outside the (black) box: He's appeared in and produced the show worldwide and brought "Forbidden Hollywood" home to Hollywood. When he went farther east with "Hollywood," Freedson was named best director and winner of the Joseph Jefferson Award for a production in Chicago.

He's also lent his voice to three "FB" cast recordings, and can be heard on Disney's "Aladdin" soundtrack.

But it is "Forbidden Broadway" that is this Jewish genie's magic lamp. Three wishes? He's had more than his share answered, says the producer of the musical "SVU" law-and-ordered world he lives.

 

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