Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Forbidden Broadway

Conceived and written by Gerard Alessandrini
Menier Chocolate Factory
(2009)

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The pleasures of Forbidden Broadway, which has now wowed audiences across America for 27 years, will be enjoyed in direct proportion to the number of West End musicals that the viewer has seen.

The Menier's version of the Off-Broadway hit cabaret/revue has been updated and Anglicised, meaning that its title is something of a misnomer.

The show simultaneously pays homage to and wickedly lampoons pretty much every musical (plus Equus) that has played the West End in the last couple of years, plus some iconic older shows such as Annie.

The twist is that while the music may come from original shows, the lyrics most certainly do not. Instead, the evening's creator Gerard Alessandrini cleverly introduces satirical comment and insights into London's ever popular shows and the people behind them.

Nobody is safe, especially the most influential. Lord Lloyd Webber, Sir Elton John, Stephen Sondheim, Cameron Mackintosh and Liza with a Zee all fare well or badly, depending upon how you look at it.

Under the slick direction of Phillip George, the talented four-strong ensemble cast sing well and are accompanied by talented pianist, Joel Fram throughout a little under two hours of bite-sized pastiches of musical standards.

Wearing what seem like hundreds of intelligently-conceived costumes courtesy of Alvin Colt, Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman work well as a team but also each get plenty of great solo moments.

The attraction of Forbidden Broadway lies in having a breathless run through streams of old favourites from Cabaret to the Menier's own La Cage Aux Folles via Phantom, Les Miz, The Lion King and the more recent Spring Awakening, while at the same time fondly laughing at their excesses.

Just about the only musicals currently playing in London that miss out are the jukebox favourites, We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia. One suspects that in a kind of backhanded insult, Alessandrini and his team do not even rate them worthy to poke friendly fun at.

Ignoring its victims (and some of them may be flattered), there are only two classes of theatregoer who should be advised to give the Menier a wide berth while this often very funny show is on. They are those that hate musicals and anyone who believes that the art form is sacred.

If you fall between these two poles, go along and enjoy a light evening of the type that is incredibly popular in New York but, to date, has not really caught on this side of the Atlantic.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher