Forbidden Broadway at the Albery Theatre
Note: This review dates from Forbidden Broadway's run at the Jermyn Street Theatre in March 1999. it opened at the Albery on 3 August 1999.
Many are chosen and few are spared in Gerard Alessandrini's hugely popular, and wickedly funny, satirical revue Forbidden Broadway. Around 18 of Broadway's (and the West End's) biggest musical successes, plus 15 showbiz figures, are mercilessly sent up in a two-and-a-quarter hour show that encompasses everything from the long-running Cats to those new kids on the block, The Lion King and Rent.
Some of the cruellest barbs are hurled at musical divas like former Evita star Elaine Paige, who is depicted as a sawn-off munchkin. 'I'm not small, it's the sets that got bigger,' she yells to gales of audience laughter. Julie Andrews meanwhile, is portrayed as a parrot-playing has-been, in the song parody “A Spoonful of Julie”. Liza Minelli fares no better as 'Star of stage, screen and Betty Ford Clinic'.
'Emperor of Broadway' Cameron Mackintosh is targeted for his ruthless marketing strategies - down to 'Les Mis chocolates shaped like orphans', Miss Saigon composers Boublil and Schoenberg take the flak for 'songs that sound like a rusty saxophone', and even Lord Lloyd Webber falls victim to “The Mucous of the Night”.
Top grosser on the Great White Way is the Mouse Academy these days, so naturally lyricist Alessandrini has a comment on that, too. A hilarious Beauty & the Beast send-up features a downcast Lumiere singing “Be depressed, be depressed/ 'Cos Walt Disney eez ze best”.
While there is much here for the occasional theatregoer to enjoy, only hardcore musical fans will 'get' the parodies of Anna Karenina - The Musical, or the Donmar's stateside production of Cabaret. And I suspect many Londoners will miss out on some of the Broadway in-jokes - that Mandy Patinkin, 'emotes like a goose' or Carol Channing built her whole career on Hello, Dolly.
Part of the charm of Forbidden Broadway lies in the improvisation. Possibly the most expensive scene in Broadway history, the hovering helicopter in Miss Saigon, is re-enacted using a toy, and the lavish Phantom sets are conjured up with the aid of a gimcrack chandelier.
There are strong voices and good ensemble playing by the four-handed cast of Mark O'Malley, Alistair Robins, Sophie Louise Dann and Christine Pedi. Pedi does a fine Barbra Streisand, and Robins's Sondheim ('Into the Words') is particularly amusing. The show also benefits from the intimate cabaret-style staging where the artistes are cheek-by-jowl with Paul Knight's euphonious piano; a better setting I suspect than the larger Fortune Theatre, where this revue last played.
Alessandrini balances vitriol with wit, and bitchiness with affection, which ensures Forbidden Broadway never strays from being a tongue-in-cheek look at the Broadway musical to an out-and-out-attack.