Forbidden Broadway's Damian Humbley: 'The hardest thing is trying to keep a straight face'

Damian Humbley is returning to the Menier Chocolate Factory to star in musical theatre parody show ”Forbidden Broadway” alongside Sophie-Louise Dann, Ben Lewis and Anna-Jane Casey

Damian Humbley in rehearsal for Forbidden Broadway
Damian Humbley in rehearsal for Forbidden Broadway
© Alastair Muir

What drew you to Forbidden Broadway?
David Babani called me and asked me to do Life of the Party with Andrew Lippa and then called me a couple of days later and asked if I wanted to be a part of Forbidden Broadway. What drew me to it was the comedy value of all of it, but I did have some issues when first being approached as to whether or not it would be prejudiced against musical theatre. But when David and I had a conversation about it, I realised that it’s all done with a love for the original material. As much as you’re taking the piss out of it, it’s all because you love the art form, in the same way you can take the mickey out of your friends.

Had you seen the show before?
Yes, I saw it in its last incarnation when it was at the Chocolate Factory in 2009. It was great because it’s current. So I’ve heard some songs that they’ve done there but we’ve got new stuff that hasn’t been done in this country before for example there’s a bit where Ben and I do a Book of Mormon tribute.

Do you send up any shows that you have been in yourself?
Well we do a Sondheim send-up called "Into the Words", which is based on his weird, voice-intricate lyrics and how they are written, so we bring in characters from Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and Sondheim himself comes out. Mostly it’s all current because that’s the only way you can keep this genre of show running – there’s Les Mis, Lion King, The Book of Mormon, Once.

Do the writers update the show all the time?
There’s a constant change. We all learn each other’s songs so that if we need to swap them around we can. It’s about order and keeping a balance. You can’t have people laughing for two hours straight, they’ll just stop laughing. You have to keep the ups and downs and the flow of it all.

Do you have any favourite songs from the show?
I mentioned the Book of Mormon thing, that’s frickin’ hilarious. It makes me laugh all the time. The hardest thing I think is trying to keep a straight face through a lot of the stuff. AJ and Sophie do a wonderful Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno duo to the tune of "America". Once is hilarious, I think that’s my favourite, and I’ve always liked anything that takes the piss out of Les Mis as well.

Damian Humbley channels the Phantom in Forbidden Broadway
Damian Humbley channels the Phantom in Forbidden Broadway
© Alastair Muir

You’ve done a lot of shows at the Menier, what attracts you to the venue?
Numerous things. I think the reason I love theatre so much is about community, about everyone being there at the same time to watch this thing that’s happening live. I think it’s the most fascinating thing, anthropologically. The Menier is perfect for it because it’s so small and so intimate and that’s just on the stage. The people that work here have a love of theatre and they want to do the best work.

Quite a lot of the roles you’ve played have comedic elements, is that a conscious choice for you?
It’s funny when talking about comedy. I think that comedy is about real people in fricked up situations. You look at a farce and they’re all real characters and the reason that you laugh so much is because it’s that element of Schadenfreude. It’s about laughing at people and thinking "Thanks God that’s not me".

Is it a conscious choice for me to do them? I like making people laugh as much as I like singing a good song so I guess sometimes it is. There’s always something funny about someone, isn’t there? Maybe the correct answer is I’ll always try to bring humour to whatever I do as opposed to picking things that have humour involved in it.

Do you have roles that you want to play?
No not really. My main thing is I really like working with fun and good people. So it really doesn’t matter – well of course it matters what show because you don’t want to be doing porn! But I find I work best when I am surrounded by great people who are good at what they do.

What would you say to people thinking about coming to see the show?
I’d say come see the show because it’s full of fun and full of joy. It will be a great night out. Everyone has a ball, absolutely everyone – it is money well spent in that way. And also you get a taste of what’s on in the West End at the moment. So if there’s something that excites you or something you have fun listening to or making fun of that we do in the show, then go see that show.

Forbidden Broadway runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 16 August 2014