Originally published on London Box Office
As a regular theatregoer, I love getting caught up in the atmosphere that surrounds the West End. Each production is unique, with moments that make you laugh, cry and cheer (hopefully). Of course, no show is flawless and each has its eccentricities. So when I heard that Forbidden Broadway, a musical revue that makes fun out of all of these weird and wonderful nuances, was coming to the Vaudeville Theatre I knew I had to go along. I wondered whether this show would pick out the same things that I noticed when seeing a musical for the first time. It did, but it also opened my eyes to some completely new and hilarious moments that I will definitely watch out for in the future.
The Forbidden Broadway brand has been running (ironically off-Broadway) since the 1980s and can best be described as a tongue-in-cheek satirical look at musicals old and new. I was initially worried that this American show (very cabaret in style) wouldn’t translate to London; American and British humour are known for being quite different. But I suppose that we all love to laugh at other people’s quirks or mistakes – just look at all the American blooper shows of ‘It’ll Be Alright On The Night’. I was also worried that the show would be too focussed on our Broadway counterparts and miss some of the West End’s more popular works. But I quickly let go of my fears and dissolved into side-splitting laughter, along with half of the audience, once the show got going.
With only 4 performers playing a variety of characters, it felt a bit like The 39 Steps at times, but everyone managed to keep the pace and energy up throughout. With such a small cast, anyone with a weaker voice would have been instantly recognisable, but that was not the case here – not only great voices but the number of styles in which the performers could sing in was really impressive. It reminded me of a comedy sketch show, very similar to ‘The Big Impression’ or ‘Dead Ringers’ from TV; all performers were able to imitate their chosen characters really well and instantly picked out the flaws in each one. Of course, as with any kind of sketch show, everyone will have their favourite acts. In this show, I found 2 in particular absolutely hilarious and they summed up the whole production really well. The best of these was the Les Misérables sketch that ended the first half. As soon as I heard the overture of that show I was admittedly a bit nervous; as one of the most successful musicals of all time, will this production get away with poking fun at Les Mis? But as soon as the actors came on, they immediately knew the right parts to focus on and get the greatest laughs. From the turntable gag and ‘On My Phone’ to ‘Sung Too High’ I was crying with laughter whilst also admiring the vocal talents of the performers – despite being a spoof these songs are still not easy to sing. Every member of the audience seemed to absolutely love this sketch.
The other of my favourite sketches also highlighted the main issue I had with this show. In the second half, there was a long piece about the music from ‘Once’ that hit out at the typically Irish backstory, the slightly bland romantic theme and of course the actors doubling up as musicians on stage. Having seen the musical itself I was straight on board, but I could see that a lot of the audience hadn’t seen the show and so were quite nonplussed with the next 5 minutes of the performance. This is the problem with this production for me, it didn’t get as many laughs when it poked fun at the less well-known shows and started to lose momentum. But what it does accomplish is the really difficult job of making fun of more popular shows that everyone has seen, even though they are much loved and have a score of fans that don’t like to see them ridiculed.
Individual members of theatre royalty were also victimised incredibly well in some cases. Bernadette Peters (Christina Bianco) was of particular note – such a good copy of her vocals. I also found the Rita Morena (Bianco) vs. Chita Rivera (Anna-Jane Casey) West Side Story sketch and the Sondheim medley (Bianco, Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis) really clever – the latter had some great audience involvement, which reinforced my thoughts that this show would work much better in a smaller cabaret venue.
Overall, I loved that the writing was aimed at shows of all shapes and sizes and that there were some hidden jokes in the performance that were reserved for musical theatre aficionados. But I can see that if you’re not so much of theatregoer you would like at most 50% of the show. What everyone can agree on though is that it is a hilarious and surprisingly cheap night out both to laugh at and to celebrate some of the West End’s biggest hits.