Forbidden Broadway**** (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Posted: July 17, 2014 in Theatre

photo-139Even at this performance, well into the show’s run, the audience seemed unusually full of theatre people (Caroline O’Connor and Lesley Manville the most recognisable), rolling in laughter at the constant flow of not-so-subtle in-jokes at the expense of their profession. For those like me, only half “in”, and for those more”out”, maybe the jokes will come across as a bit hit and miss and also quite repetitive, but still this show, an update of Gerard Alessandrini’s musical revue first seen here in 2009, provides pretty superior entertainment. It is based on the single joke of taking many of the most famous show tunes and changing the lyrics to satirise the shows, their writers, their stars and their producers – Cameron Mackintosh’s take on American Dream from Miss Saigon is a highlight. The first half seems more like “Forbidden West End” with bang up to date references, ending with One Day More from a weary cast of Les Miserables, which becomes 10 Years More (obviously). As the show progresses, it gets more Broadway, stretching from Oklahoma to Book of Mormon. Impersonations of stars such as Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Hugh Jackman and Angela Lansbury strike instant recognition, but Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Idina Menzel and Mandy Patinkin are less well known on this side of the pond; Menier audiences may not appreciate being reminded of Patinkin who appeared in a catastrophic flop here in 2010, before returning shame-faced to his home land, but his inclusion may correct impressions somewhat by demonstrating his stature in New York. Of course the show is self-indulgent, which is a big part of its appeal, but it can hardly be described as “gentle” or wholly “affectionate”; children’s musicals (Lion King, Charlie… etc) are lampooned with bile and, with Into the Words, there is even mockery of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics (do these people ever want to work again?). The show ends fittingly with a stinging attack on the takeover of Broadway by big corporations to the tune of Tomorrow Belongs To Me from Cabaret. Equating Disney etc to the Nazis in pre-war Germany is a bit strong, but we all recognise the sentiments. The four performers – Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis are all excellent and show remarkable skill in quick changes of costume and make-up. Great fun.

Performance date: 15 July 2014

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