By Blue Man Group. At the Astor Place Theater, 434 Lafayette, New York City; call (212) 254-4370.
If you're in New York City -- and it doesn't have to be anytime soon: Neither of these off-Broadway classics exhibits any sign of running out of steam -- Gerard Alessandrini's newly updated Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back! and Blue Man Group's Tubes (to name two) offer smashingly entertaining alternatives to the big, expensive commercial hits. In the case of Forbidden Broadway it's helpful but not essential to have seen the originals: The versatile performers are so good that they leave little doubt as to the accuracy of their impressions, from Glenn Close, late of Sunset Boulevard, to Lou Diamond Phillips, still strutting through The King and I. This is an insider's tour of Broadway that's accessible to outsiders, taking wicked delight in twitting perennials like Patti Lupone (now in Master Class), Mandy Patinkin (currently touring in his one-man show), and Elaine Stritch (last year's Tony winner for Delicate Balance), here tweaked as "Queen of Broadway's boozing broads."
Now in its 15th year at the Triad on West 72nd Street, Forbidden Broadway maintains a fast, funny pace. Blessed with a spectacularly talented cast -- current members are Bryan Batt, Donna English, Christine Pedi, and Tom Plotkin -- and enhanced by fabulously overdone costumes and wigs (Alvin Colt and Robert Fama; sets are by Bradley Kaye), the show takes on all comers and leaves the cabaret audience weak from nonstop laughter. There's a devastating sendup of Sarah Jessica Parker (who's just opened in Once Upon a Mattress) and another of Julie Andrews (Donna English), struggling through a ballad and giggling when her voice cracks. (Surprisingly, the widely panned Victor/Victoria, in which Andrews stars, is left alone; instead, Forbidden Broadway takes its side by lambasting the Tony nominating committee for its controversial snub of the show two years ago.)
Liza Minnelli makes an appearance, as does Jerry Lewis (last year's star of Damn Yankees). Other unforgettables: Ethel Merman (English) teaching the overmiked, breathlessly throaty Sunset Boulevard leading man (Tom Plotkin) how to belt it out to the last row; Chorus Line as reimagined by the cast of Cats; Showboat ("Old show, Showboat/ ... They don't cut nothin' ... / It's two hours too long ..."); an overwrought Miss Saigon with its greeting-card lyrics and wobbly helicopter; and a splendid run at Rent ("Seasons of Hype").
Farther downtown at Astor Place, a phenomenon known as Blue Man Group continues. Begun as a series of "happenings" in 1987 by three alternative performers -- Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink -- Blue Man Group (named for the latex masks they wear) opened Tubes at Cafe LaMama in '91 before moving it to its present home later that year. A vividly imaginative riff on contemporary culture, Tubes presents three blue alien types (played in rotation by the creators and various newcomers) who wordlessly explore the art scene, music (all are fine percussionists), and American consumerism as represented by Twinkies and the like. They do some amazing, mesmerizing things, like pouring paint on the three bass drums they beat on and then pounding away, creating what look like multicolored erupting volcanoes. One of them "paints" by spitting color on canvases, later sold in the lobby for $20 each. They "play" music on an intricate construction of plastic tubing, and the light changes their blue faces into white Day of the Dead skulls.
It's a show that insists on audience involvement, like it or not. At least twice some hapless audience member is pressed into service, and throughout the show, those in the front rows (who are issued plastic raincoats) feverishly cover up against the spewing of various substances. Some 90 minutes later the whole thing ends in a joyous flood of foamy white paper that envelops everyone.