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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Forbidden Broadway
Menier Chocolate Factory  Summer 2014; Vaudeville Theatre Autumn 2014

At its best, which is much of the time, this satirical revue is clever, witty, tuneful and a thorough delight. At its worst, which is only briefly and occasionally, it takes lazy pot shots at easy targets or recycles material long past its sell-by date. 

The good bits far outnumber the bad, making this equal fun for those who love Broadway musicals and those who hate them. 

Since 1981 New Yorker Gerard Alessandrini has been writing parody lyrics to show tunes, turning them back on themselves to skewer the musicals they come from. The current edition is a mix of golden oldies and new material designed especially for London. 

Typical of Alessandrini's method and a high point of the show is his Les Miserables medley that includes 'Bring It Down', Valjean's complaint that his big song is an octave too high; 'On My Phone', Eponine's explanation of what she does in her long stretches offstage; and 'Ten More Years', the cast's fear that they'll be stuck in these roles forever. 

Wicked is skewered by 'Defying Subtlety' and Mamma Mia by 'Super Stupor', while Willy Wonka sings of a 'Show With No Imagination'. 

Those who saw an earlier edition of Forbidden Broadway at the Menier in 2009 will remember the deflating of Jersey Boys ('Walk Like A Man, Sing Like A Girl') and The Lion King ('Can You Feel The Pain Tonight?'), while the Chita-Rita and Liza numbers date back to the 1980s. 

If you pause between laughs to think at all, you might notice that there's an interesting subtext to this edition, a nostalgia for a Golden Age that ended fifty years ago. 

The Book Of Mormon parody has its creators specifically rejecting the world of Cole Porter and his contemporaries while a sweet song from Dear World has Angela Lansbury regretting that they don't write the kinds of musicals she'd want to star in anymore. 

Cameron Mackintosh sings of the pap he feeds undiscriminating tourists and a version of 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me' bemoans the safe and lifeless mode preferred by Disney and other corporate producers.

The cast of four – Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis – backed by pianist Joel Fram race through the material with obvious enjoyment and high spirits, and special credit must go to the wigmakers and offstage dressers who enable them to go from one spot-on instant characterisation to another in seconds. 

I won't list the numbers that don't work for one reason or another – you might enjoy them – but just reassure you that they go by fast enough not to bring things down too far, and there's always another high spot coming to spark things up again. 

There's a reason Forbidden Broadway has been a hit for over thirty years – it's good.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  Forbidden Broadway - Menier Chocolate Factory 2014

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