A merciless satire on musicals both past and present, in both the West End and the Great White Way is how you could describe Gerard Alessandrini’s updated version of Forbidden Broadway, directed by Philip George at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Staged in the form of a musical revue, the evening comprises a series of takeoffs on current and not-so-current shows in which the words of the songs are replaced by lyrics from Alessandrini.
But this is a parody that falls short of wit and imagination, for example The Book of Mormon is changed to The Book of Morons. We get send ups of Miss Saigon, complete with miniature helicopter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with flying glass lift, the angst ridden Once, Wicked and The Lion King, as well as favourites such as Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia. There is also ’Elaine Paige’ giving a rendering of Oompah-Loompah, thanks to Sophie-Louise Dann who captures her distinctive speaking voice and throaty laugh.
But in too many cases the existing material simply won’t blend well enough or long enough to produce a coherent point. The revival of Les Miserable is parodied in an over-long segment that begins bizarrely with Cole Porter’s “C’est Magnifique” and morphs into Master of the House turning into a riot of crazed cast members wonder if they’re doomed to play these same roles for the rest of their lives: “In half an empty house! Still we never close.”
The sketches that work best are the Stephen Sondheim characters from Into the Woods, now renamed Into the Words, and Sunday in the Park with George, tussling with his tongue-twisting lyrics, and the last routine in which the performers sing how Broadway belongs to its corporate sponsors with the companies involved listed behind them.
The camp cocktail is given a degree of zest and freshness by four talented performers in the cast: Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Hamblay and Ben Levris, who possess fine voices and give convincing impressions of the stars they are spoofing.
But although you get over a dozen musicals for the price of less than one, devoid of their emotional content and a degree of inventiveness, I’m afraid this remains a show for aficionados only.
Runs at Menier Chocolate Factory until Saturday 16 August 2014
Box office: 020 7378 1713 (Special meal and show deals are available from £33-£39.50)Last modified: April 7, 2021