Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 5, Scene 2
Well, I am just treating you lovely readers this week. Not only do you get two reviews in two days, but it’s another opening night! ‘Forbidden Broadway’ premiered yesterday at the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End, after transferring from amazing fringe theatre the Menier Chocolate Factory, and that production was a transfer from Broadway in fabulous New York, New York… Still following?!
Now I didn’t actually know it was the opening night, so imagine my surprise when I turned up to find a red carpet and photographers all laid out for me. And Barbara Windsor, Robert Lindsay, Frank Skinner and Derren Brown, I guess. But mostly me 😉
‘Forbidden Broadway’ is basically a series of musical numbers taking the absolute piss out of other musicals, actors, singers and theatre trends. In fact, I’m almost uneasy about writing this, considering we started off with a number called: “Everyone’s a critic” mocking those who tweet and twitter and review everything they see… ummm, oops!
Saying this, the great thing about the show is that all of the numbers – even the really biting ones like ‘Lack of Star Quality’ about a certain Madalena Alberto (she’ll be starring in ‘Evita’ at the Dominion Theatre later this year) – still seemed to have a sense of affection; a kind of ‘we’re all in the same boat’ type of feeling, a bit like in ‘The Book of Mormon’. Even though they completely ripped apart some of my favourite musicals (ahem ‘Les Miserables’, need I say more?), their mocking actually reminded me of how much I love the original songs. I walked home listening to all the classic musical tracks!
The best numbers were the ones about actual musicals to me; where they used the original melodies with parody lyrics, and the words really rang true. ‘Defying Subtlety’ (aka Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’) was absolutely spot-on, and I loved the vicious sending up of the over-the-top volume and lack of real message in ‘Miss Saigon’… which then segued brilliantly into a mock-up of Cameron Mackintosh as The Producer: “I make the Americans cream…” Other highlights were the sending up of the populist ‘The Lion King’; an absolutely brilliant bit with Les Mis, their revolving stage and ‘Bring It Down’ complaining about the absurdly high pitch of ‘Bring Him Home’; and performers complaining about Stephen Sondheim’s famously wordy lyrics and complicated plots in ‘Into the Words’ (aka ‘Into the Woods’).
What I’m saying is, when it was good, it was hilarious and amazing and everything one could wish for. But it wasn’t hilarious all the time – almost all the time, yes, but not all the time. There were just a couple of set pieces that weren’t my favourites simply because I didn’t know enough about the characters or the shows; like the Angela Lansbury song or the ‘Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels’ number. This wasn’t true for all the musicals I hadn’t seen – the ‘Once’ section was hysterical – but it did make me realise how important it was to have prior knowledge of the lampooned shows and celebs to enjoy ‘Forbidden Broadway’.
However, even the less entertaining numbers were enjoyable because of the four incredible cast members and their insanely powerful and versatile voices. A musical parody without good singing undermines its own message, but luckily Christina Bianco, Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis can tackle anything from falsetto, to rasping, to little children-style, to opera, belting, everything and anything really. Especially impressive are the impressions: the girls’ Bernadette Peters, Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth are ridiculously accurate and there was also a great Hugh Jackman and Mandy Patinkin in there as well.
Overall, this is a hilarious show when it works, and pretty good when it doesn’t. You really have to know your musicals to enjoy all of it, but there’s enough popular bits in there that there’s definitely quite a few songs in there for everyone. The only changes I’d make would be to add a few more West End elements in there – like some more British stars, rather than Broadway celebs (Julie Andrews maybe? Or at least a ‘Sound of Music’ element? That might be influenced by personal preference though…). And personally, I thought the ‘Book of Mormon’ number didn’t quite work, just because it’s hard to parody something that’s already satirical. But apart from those small elements, this is a genuinely clever and funny show with amazing singing talents and a must for all the theatre buffs out there.
’Forbidden Broadway’ at the Vaudeville Theatre: 4/5 stars