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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Forbidden Broadway
Menier Chocolate Factory Summer 2009

An almost uninterrupted hoot from start to finish, this import from New York (where it has been running forever) will delight both those who love musicals and those who hate musicals.

Back in 1982 Gerard Alessandrini developed a cabaret act taking the mickey out of current Broadway shows and stars, and the show, with an expanded cast and constant updatings, has run - and won awards - in a dozen cities ever since.

To his credit, Alessandrini, who remains the creative guiding force and chief lyric writer, has not just thrown together a 'Best Of' compilation for the present show, but written a lot of new and London-specific material.

So we get, among others, a startlingly tall Hannah Waddingham complaining about poor houses for A Little Night Music with 'Send In the Crowds', Michael Ball celebrating his drag role in Hairspray with 'You Can't Stop the Camp' and pot-shots at Andrew Lloyd Webber for turning into an inescapable TV talent show judge ('Andrew Lloyd, TV Star').

As those examples suggest, the recurring mode of the show is for the cast of four to take turns singing parodies of familiar show songs, with some lightly biting comment on the original show or performer, each number making its point and then quickly giving way to the next.

Jean Valjean strains his falsetto begging the musical arranger to 'Bring It Down', Cameron Mackintosh hawks 'A Few of My Souvenir Things', Oliver and Dodger admit that tickets are 'Considerably High Priced' and so on. Almost every turn scores and the few weak ones are gone before they have a chance to break the mood.

To be sure, some of the older stuff is probably past its sell-by date - an Annie gag in particular, but also parodies of such dead targets as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (justified to some extent by one hilarious costume) and Mary Poppins. A Liza take-off is both dated and particularly poorly done, and digs at Sarah Brightman for outstaying her welcome and Elaine Paige for being short are well past their prime.

Satire of this sort is at its best when delivered with affection, and there is no question that many of the numbers celebrate their targets even as they're skewering them, be it Jersey Boys ('Walk Like a Man, Sing Like a Girl') or a double shot at Chicago and gossip-loving bloggers ('All That Chat').

But you may be surprised to find a couple of moments of open sentiment amidst all the laughter.What starts as a take-off on Spring Awakening ends up regretting that this superior show flopped in London, and a Stephen Sondheim parody morphs into a very lovely and loving salute to the master.

The cast - Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman - are all talented singer-actors who have appeared in some of the very musicals they're sending up, and their delight at being naughty is infectious. They carry the show more with their versatility and energy than with any special ability as impressionists, but that's fine.

This is not a show about the performers' skill as imitators, it's a celebration of their - and our - ability to laugh at a theatrical form we all love.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Forbidden Broadway - Menier 2009