Similar to long-running US institution Forbidden Broadway, Jest End parodies the most popular musicals in the West End, including long-runners The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Wicked, Billy Elliot and Avenue Q as well as more recent arrivals Sister Act, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Oliver!, Hairspray and the upcoming Legally Blonde.
The Jermyn Street season is performed by Laura Brydon, Jodie Jacobs, Stuart Matthew-Price and Chris Thatcher. Jest End is devised, directed and regularly updated by Garry Lake, designed by Howard Lloyd and choreographed by Rebecca Howell, with musical supervision by Gareth Ellis and musical direction by Bob Broad.
A musical theatre performer himself, Lake currently plays Pop in Queen musical We Will Rock You at the West End’s Dominion Theatre. His other performance credits include Saturday Night Fever, Jekyll and Hyde, Side by Side by Sondheim, Dick Whittington, Little Shop of Horrors and The Grapes of Wrath.
How did come up with the idea for the show?
Two years ago I was providing the voice behind the curtain presenting at the Whatsonstage.com Awards nomination party at Cafe de Paris. For a brief moment, I felt like a commentator on an Eighties game show: “Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome to the stage Mr Michael Ball”. During the proceedings, Grease’s Jayde Westaby sang a parody song as part of the entertainment. As this song was performed, I noticed a bubble of excitement spread throughout the audience. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be at ease in the room immersed in laughter. A relaxed atmosphere was instantly achieved. The cryptic musical theatre references were given the praise they deserved. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to create my own parody show which would not only create this same atmosphere on a much bigger scale, but would essentially aim to become London’s answer to Forbidden Broadway, providing London’s audiences with a clear, concise, up-to-date, tongue-in-cheek comedy.
How does Jest End differ from Forbidden Broadway?
Jest End is the guilty pleasure of musical theatre in this city. The material is so current and specific that it’s almost at the stage whereby, just hearing the announcement of a new show, or the closure of a show, the numbers begin to write themselves in my head. The show has many different levels. Most of the time the numbers are a commentary on relevant topics, but just for the fun of it, sometimes the numbers are just sketches.
For example, the song “Girls All Over Me” is a parody of the Billy Elliot number “Electricity”. The audience see Billy being interviewed and explaining that the only reason he took up ballet in the first place was to pull the girls. As the song develops, the nervous Billy that we meet in the beginning becomes a lovable yet very cocky character:
“No other kid in London has a talent that I’ve met,
The Gavroche or even Simba, not like me a triple threat,
Guess it’s sad to be nobody, all your actions are forgot,
Not for me cause I’m the Billy, I’m the Billy Elliot.”
So going back to the question, I would say that, yes, Jest End could be compared to Forbidden Broadway in the sense that it is a musical comedy that uses parody, but the style of comedy is very different, the sketches are new, innovative and uniquely British. But I do think both shows pay tribute to the superb theatre scene which is relevant to their humour and their audience.
How do you devise the numbers in the show?
After developing comic ideas from the current affairs and West End gossip, I am very strict with myself in terms of replacing the original lyrics with my own so that they fit to every syllable. As an actor myself, I am always putting myself on stage when writing Jest End material, so I can clearly see the lines being delivered. As soon as I get an initial idea, the rest kind of just fits into place. I end up ringing my mother and asking the famous question “Is this funny?” The West End changes every day, so the future scripts surround me all the time.
What can people expect from the show?
If you were to imagine watching every show currently running in the West End in an hour and a half, that will give you a sense of the material packed in to every Jest End performance. The cast of four actors plough through around 35 numbers during the show, which celebrates and comments on the highs and lows of Theatreland. The audience will get to see all the shows they love, and all the shows they love to hate.
How do you feel about your media partnership with Whatsonstage.com? And how does it tie in with the upcoming tenth annual Whatsonstage.com Awards?
I’m so happy that we have this partnership running. To have such a highly respected organisation on our side and supporting us every step of the way is a big honour for the show and for myself personally. The e-flyers and newsletters go out to thousands of people. Without the constant backing from Whatsonstage.com, we would not have the brand identity we are starting to achieve. To mark this successful partnership Whatsonstage.com has invited us to open this year’s Awards launch party on 4 December. We’ll be performing a very special Jest End medley to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Whatsonstage.com Awards. We are thrilled to do this.
The latest Jest End show run for five weeks, from 19 November to 20 December 2009 (previews from 17 December) at the Jermyn Street Theatre. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.jestend.com.
The launch party for the 2010 Whatsonstage.com Awards takes place on Friday 4 December. For the tenth birthday, we’re making a limited number of sponsorship packages available to individuals; these include passes to this star-studded, industry-only event. For information on theatregoer supporters’ packages, click here.