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A Forbidden Broadway Christmas springs from the Forbidden Broadway mold; if the original was successful, why shouldn't they make money off a Christmas-themed sequel? It's the very kind of business decision creator/writer Gerard Alessandrini would have mocked, had he not made it himself. In its third year at the Gem Theatre, this bastard child of the Broadway machine features spectacular voices paying homage to the genre, even as it bites back with literal and figurative Grinchiness.

The bread and butter of this cabaret-style production is the tunes, favorites spanning decades of Broadway history. Some songs are paired with their respective shows, as in an extended Les Miserables medley, but more unexpected and creative choices are revealed when, for example, Gypsy's "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" is reworded to address the industry's recent puppetry fad. Topics range from Christmas to the economy to more specific barbs aimed at Broadway's producers and divas, but you don't have to know who Cameron Mackintosh is (trust me, I didn't) to appreciate a song about the merchandising craze. Over the course of its two hours, the show does run a few concepts into the ground — yes, okay, Disney is everywhere! — but overall there is a decent balance of Christmas-specific parody along with the Broadway commentary, plus a hefty dose of riotous celebrity impressions for impressions' sake. The material is strong enough that I didn't mind the repetition, and each number offers something that the others don't.

The four cast members excel whether appearing alone or in a group; their expertly blended harmonies were spare but delectable, thanks to the music direction of Ed Wells. The balance of roles was a little off, namely, Janet Caine had a great many solo numbers that kept her alternating with the group numbers instead of participating in them — that said, her gift for impersonation was put to good use, distinctly lampooning Barbara Streisand, Patti LuPone, Celine Dion, and more. Kimberly Vanbiesbrouck capitalized on her brassy energy and her skill for diligently crafted bits, and Jason Richards showed fearless range in more ways than one; they both coaxed laughs out of the audience more from their little added touches than from the funny lyrics. Mark David Kaplan had one of the few numbers delivered completely in character without meta-commentary, and his Tevye plaintively singing "If I Were a Gentile" had the house roaring.

Despite having just four performers and a set that's bare save some adornments, this show visually bustles and surprises, with credit due to an offstage team larger than — and equally busy as — the one under the lights. Supplementing the many shows represented were countless changes of dead-on costumes and props, executed with precision by wardrobe supervisor Andrea Kannon, wardrobe assistants Nicola Davis and Jessica Williamson, wigmaster Salomon DeWane, and props mistress Sandy Rollin. Some may have been scaled down, but everything from the von Trapp children's curtain outfits to the veritable safari that is The Lion King was thought out to the last detail, astounding in both their quality and their number.

Ironically, the big songs and big talent of A Forbidden Broadway Christmas may be most attractive to viewers drawn to the kind of Broadway extravaganzas so viciously skewered here. The production has a love-hate relationship with its source material, relying on its own brand of spectacle to fill the seats even as it nurses an undercurrent of derision and laments the dearth of real thee-ah-tah on the Great White Way. Yet this isn't Chekhov, nor does it pretend to be — it's a bawdy greatest-hits collection that impresses in many of the ways a Broadway-style musical does, but in a more intimate setting and at a fraction of the price.


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