Forbidden Broadway (conceived and written by Gerard Alessandrini) was first performed in New York in 1981. A two night performance that became a sensation amongst musical theatre lovers, who loved to laugh at the naughty musical parodies of some of their favourite Broadway shows. Forbidden Broadway finally closed its doors in February 2014, after playing for 27 years (not bad for a show that was only supposed to have two performances)! And now, the show is back at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory for a two month run.
For a show like this you need really good comedy actors with the ability to impersonate a plethora of different musical theatre characters. Anna-Jane Casey (who recently finished playing Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot) is a masterclass in comedy performing, effortlessly portraying everyone from Gavroche in Les Miserables to Elphaba in Wicked. Anna-Jane came to London from Lancashire when she was 16 to star in the original production of Cats the Musical and has gone on to play leading roles in shows like Chicago and Spamalot.
Sophie-Louise Dann is an all-round brilliant performer. Her career has encompassed the worlds of Opera, Musical Theatre, Radio and Film. Sophie-Louise was most recently seen in Closer Than Ever at Jermyn Street Theatre, another show that involves dashing around pretending to be different characters every few minutes. She sparkles in these types of roles with a gleam in her eye that shows she loves what she does.
Damian Humbley is well accustomed to the Menier Chocolate Factory having just finished performing in the Andrew Lippa review show Life of the Party. Prior to that he was a part of the hugely successful production of Merrily We Roll Along (which earned itself a transfer to the Harold Pinter Theatre). He is a great actor and a great comedy performer (although obviously they all are – the show wouldn’t work if they weren’t).
The final member of the Forbidden Broadway cast is Ben Lewis. Ben is best known for playing the Phantom of the Opera in the Australian production of Love Never Dies (a stunningly beautiful film of this show is available to buy). Since being in London, Ben has performed most recently in Therese Raquin at the Finbrough Theatre and Candide at the Menier. Ben adds a much needed air of masculinity to Forbidden Broadway and fits well within the group.
Shows parodied in Forbidden Broadway include Les Mis, Book of Mormon, Mamma Mia!, Phantom, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Once, The Pajama Game, Jersey Boys and Wicked. Two of my favourite segments of the show though were parodies of Miss Saigon and Into the Woods which were utterly brilliant. Anna-Jane and Sophie-Louise were also incredible in their parody of West Side Story’s America. Special tributes were played to Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Angela Lansbury, Liza Minelli and Idina Menzel which helped to nicely break the evening up.
Whilst some of the impersonations were better than others, I don’t think many of the audience would have noticed as they wiped the tears of laughter from their eyes. Forbidden Broadway says things that any musical theatre fan will have thought in the past but maybe not had the courage to express about their feelings towards shows. And the occasions where you don’t agree with how they are being parodied are just hysterically funny. Forbidden Broadway does not set out to hurt or offend, just to celebrate musical theatre and poke a bit of fun at the industry.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Forbidden Broadway is playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 16 August 2014. Click here for tickets.