Forbidden Broadway, the cult off-Broadway musical revue, has hit Menier Chocolate Factory and is ready to spice up the world of musical theatre with saucy, on-point slaps to old as well as new shows from Broadway and the West End. Beloved and some un-loved shows all get a turn on the carousel that is world class mockery (and a not so secret love-declaration) of everything that is musical theatre.
Running for 30 years the show rubs shoulders with Les Misérables and Phantom, but don’t be fooled – it is as far from archaic and stiffened as can be and offers brand-new and refreshing twists to the shows we all know. Set in proper revue-style with glitter en-masse, musical director Joel Fram merrily takes us through the musical mayhem caused by the four very talented and manic performers, completely transforming the meaning of every musical song we know.
The show is so funny I was literally on the floor crying. Losing all sense of embarrassment as it is totally worth any tear-action (it’s just that good) I realised I was not alone in my uncontrollable hysterics of laughter sounding more like a donkey than human being, let alone female.
The good news is this is one of those shows where you can let your hair down and forget you are in a theatre, supposedly very still in your seat critically observing the strangeness happening in front of your eyes. No, Forbidden Broadway smashes any security wall you might have put in front of yourself and allows you to let loose and enjoy one of those rare animalistic laughs joined by a whole group of people. It feels so blooming good it’s like we’ve all been drugged by the wonder of Gerard Alessandrini’s ingenious writing. Where some spoof shows go for the obvious solution, using simple lyrics and bawdiness all the way through, Forbidden Broadway proves itself much more sophisticated, hitting the nail with spot-on observations on shows, their performers and very successful creators. Everyone worth mentioning gets a spin in the show’s washing machine and is mixed with blunt observations, high spirits and incredible vocals from a cast defying their previous West End and Broadway employers and giving them all a go in this hysterical mish-mash of the world of musical theatre.
The night is fast-paced and packed with big hits from Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Lion King, Matilda and The Book of Mormon to name a few – all twisted and abused in every fashion by the cast of four, furiously changing characters and costumes like a thunder ball of energy, pushing the show into such high gear that you are on the edge of your seat – still laughing like a hyena – gawking at whatever ridiculous costume or cross-dressing sensation is walking on next. It is worth mentioning Anna-Jane Casey’s impressive character-swapping as she explores a wide range of styles and class, especially wowing with her impressions of Idina Menzel and her alter-ago Elphaba. Sophie-Louise Dann is deliciously bawdy as Madame Thenardier, and with the superb Damian Humbley as Chris, the two offer a very different version of Miss Saigon than the big-budget monster-hit currently storming the West End. Ben Lewis plays everyone from a ridiculously out-grown Billy to hunky Hugh Jackman attempting to woo Broadway, but silly impressions is not all there is to the wonder that is Forbidden Broadway – they manage to target serious issues troubling theatre-land in all their happy-clappy musical-slapping; the excessive use of phones during performances, the treatment of child performers, and the financial beasts of Broadway eating up creative integrity all get a shout during the night.
Forbidden Broadway certainly conquers London with its newest spoofs, being a delightful fresh summer breeze in the serious West End. It both celebrates musical theatre and criticises it for its faults – being wonderfully clever and under-the-belt at all times, clearly doing it for its audience. It’s the biggest laugh you’ll have this summer – so if you plan on just doing one thing right this month, stop moaning about the weather and prices of festival tickets and go catch the Broadway-sensation before they leave.
Forbidden Broadway is playing at Menier Chocolate Factory until 16 August. For more information and tickets, see the Menier Chocolate Factory website.