You can’t go through life with only the serious, some frivolity is required. And after a hefty dose of Wagner, that’s where Forbidden Broadway comes in.
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s latest show was a blast. I was initially thrown by the fact that the performers were British: I had expected an imported American cast from the long-running off-Broadway show, but it seems instead that it works on a sort of franchise agreement. And on this outing, it works very successfully.
I won’t go through the detail of the spoofs, but the general themes which are mercilessly pursued include ‘disneyfication’ (The Lion King, Mary Poppins), high ticket prices (everything), the omnipresence of drag shows (La Cage, Priscilla, Hairspray), trash vs. Sondheim, and changing scenic inventions. On that latter point, they bemoan an increase in back-projections (Carousel) instead of scenery, which is less anathemic to an opera-goer perhaps than to a seasoned West End musical patron, and simultaneously they send up the obsession with grand theatrical effects such as flying a terrified actress around the ceiling (Mary Poppins, Wicked, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc.)
The lyrics behind these spoofs have to be heard to be believed. It is the great wonder of Forbidden Broadway that the rhythm and sound of the substituted lyrics are so spot-on for the original song. “Feed the Burbs” and “Send in the Crowds” were particularly fine, as was the long-standing but nevertheless refreshed Les Miserables spoof (“Once a piece of art, now a piece of crap, just what London needs, another tourist trap…”) I will treasure memories of the Chitty piss-take for the simple line “Chitty Shitty Clap Trap”.
So to the performaces: energetic to the point of hyperactivity, sharply observed, well-integrated, vocally strong (though the amplification in the small confines of the Menier sometime mushes the vocals). Stephen Kynman delivered a wonderful Daniel Radcliffe piss-take as well as a Billy Elliot sketch with Elton John and some seriously near-the-knuckle jibes at Elton’s motivation for being involved. Alasdair Harvey struck a more conventional music theatre dash. For the women, Anna-Jane Casey launched the show with a wonderful Fosse pastiche, turning All That Jazz into All That Chat and describing the blogosphere’s dissection of shows they’ve seen and associated gossip (ahem…) Her delivery throughout was wonderfully sharp, pointed and characterful, and at times she put me in mind of Carol Burnett and Millicent Martin. Sophie-Louise Dann was similarly laser-like in her characterisations. Her Hannah Waddingham (A Little Night Music) and Mary Poppins were utterly wonderful. The musical business was led in spirited form by Joel Fram.
Heartily recommended. And thinking about it, it would be great if there were something like this for opera. The time has come for a revival of dear Anna Russell. The Mariinsky tried, but the original was far superior.