>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 14 jan 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD is one of those pieces of comic theatre that work by a successful appeal to the meaner side of human nature. Not that this is a bad thing - this one hour forty minute revue gets its laughs by parodying, satirising, and lampooning much of what is objectionable about Hollywood. And it does this rather cleverly too: twenty-three sketches see actors coming on to the stage recognisably tricked up as prominent Hollywood characters who then proceed, by simply allowing their characters to speak for themselves, to damn such people or shows as they represent - a vacuous-eyed Melanie Griffith happily chirps, for example, "My mother's Tippi Hedren / Birdies pecked her head in / Now I'm a birdbrain too!" and Gene Kelly is cheery enough as he flourishes his brolly and intones, "My singing is a pain, / I'm a glorious dancer until the refrain!"

Although there were some sketches which tended to drag (especially when the audience wasn't familiar with a particular movie) most of FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD was indeed very funny. It helped that the actors were accompanied for the most part by apposite music from an onstage grand (mention must be made of the excellent August Eriksmoen, the pianist and musical director). The secret of the show's success, however, really lies in the quality of its cast - Whitney Allen, Mark-David Kaplan, Gina Kreiezmar, and Lance Roberts have the energy and imagination to toss off a dizzying array of impersonations, often in quick succession, while striking just the right balance between cheesy ditziness and killing self-condemnation (Whitney Allen shines in this respect). This last in particular is essential since much of the show's humour depends on the existence of incongruity - or the gap which exists between a character's smile and what he or she is actually saying (see the Melanie Griffith and Gene Kelly examples).

Much of the show's success also lies in its choice of targets - at least for the Singapore version of the show, FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD keeps itself to lambasting old blockbuster favourites which most of the audience would be able to pick up on immediately. On the cards therefore were movies such as 'The Wizard of Oz', 'Titanic', 'Forrest Gump', 'Casablanca', and 'Ghost'; in these cases, the mere appearance of a popular character (such as Whoopi Goldberg played by Lance Roberts in drag) was enough to set the audience chortling.

>>'FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD is one of those pieces of comic theatre that work by a successful appeal to the meaner side of human nature'

Fame, however, is not the only criterion for selection - generally speaking, cack-handed Hollywood adaptations of stage musicals tend to get it worst in the show (one suspects because Alessandrini, FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD'S creator, is a Broadway man by trade.) The show, for example, actually manages to make hilarious issue out of the use of colour filters and too-wide screens in the movie adaptations of 'South Pacific' and 'Oklahoma!' respectively. But Alessandrini's net is also cast wide enough so that no quarter is given to acting mediocrities who are, in his opinion, indecently popular - an idiotic looking Keanu Reeves opines, together with co-stars Melanie Griffith and Cameron Diaz, that "we shouldn't be in pictures" - but somehow we are and "somehow we muddle through."

You can also hear the angry moralist behind such lines as "Modern movie starlets / Have to act like harlots" (Sharon Stone) and "Moonlight and music are now out of date / Dialogue and drama are now second rate" (Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in 'Casablanca'.) The best parts of the show, however, come when Alessandrini broadens his satirical thrust to inveigh against Hollywood's trashy values - "Julia Roberts taught me being a pretty hooker is a good way to find true love. Barbra Streisand taught me psychiatrists can best help their patients by sleeping with them." Just as sharp are the bits where he discovers how the world has been Disneyfied beyond repair - as when Aladdin and Jasmine, both cringe-worthily affected, croon "When Disney takes control / You'll lose your soul / Because Disney World owns the world."

For all that, it is ironic that FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD's values should, upon closer inspection, be largely apiece with those of the real Hollywood's: in sketches such as those parodying Patrick Swayze and Marlene Dietrich, you see how the show covertly lauds beauty and success, mercilessly riding roughshod over those who fall by the wayside; what gets Alessandrini's goat is not Hollywood as an institution, but the inferiority of its actors and products.

Not that they care, of course, these actors and giant movie studios - nasty as FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD may be, since it only picks the very best and the very famous to devastate, it is really a compliment to find yourself in it. This is the other irony of the show: when Alessandrini turns to you with his skewer - that's when you know you've hit the big time.