When Forbidden Broadway closed in New York earlier this year, some commentators predicted a gloomy forecast for showbiz satire, blaming factors ranging from TV casting and the death of the diva, to the blandness of jukebox musicals.
But Jest End, which has been gradually honing its act since 2007, proves resoundingly that there's life in the genre yet. So although there's no Ethel Merman or Elaine Paige, we do get pitch-perfect takes on Michael Ball and John Barrowman. And though spoofing the Phantom is old hat, there's mileage in mocking the recent decision to make Christine a shared role.
Comparisons are inevitable, particularly considering the format is pretty much identical (four performers, one pianist, and a songlist as long as your arm). But there's a refreshing sense of youthful energy about Jest End that Forbidden Broadway, when I saw its swansong at the Chocolate Factory earlier in the year, was inevitably lacking.
Jest End, the brainchild of writer/director Garry Lake, still has room for improvement. Some of its numbers are too clever for their own good (jokes about the struggles of the Savoy Theatre are unlikely to resonate with all but the most hardened of theatre fans), whereas some are just not clever enough – a song about flops proves about as funny as Imagine This.
But there are some glorious swipes at other aspects of the industry, such as the trend for postmodern choreography delivered via the gibberish lyrics of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. And a welcome layer of surrealism is introduced care of a number that reimagines Billy Elliot as a sexed-up hip-hop wideboy.
The cast of Jodie Jacobs, Laura Brydon, Chris Thatcher and Stuart Matthew Price all sing superbly (though do they really need mics?), with Thatcher proving a fine mimic as Messrs Ball and Barrowman (“I Am Barrowman” to the tune of “I Am What I Am” is a real treat).
Jest End may still require pruning if it hopes to emulate the success of its Off-Broadway forebear, but it's on the right tracks, and proves a must-see for any musical theatre aficionados.