All hail to the creators, cast and producers of Forbidden Broadway: not only do they keep it bang up-to-date, but they also adapt to their surroundings. This edition of the long-running satirical off-Broadway revue - which has been running in one guise or another, with frequent hiatuses, for over 30 years in New York now - was first premiered at the Menier Chocolate Factory in the summer as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations.
Now it has become the latest in around a dozen West End transfers the theatre has made in the last decade, and gives Forbidden Broadway a decidedly different aspect. It has become a part of the very thing it satirises. On the first night, the hall of reflective mirrors it now exists in was amplified by the fact that Robert Lindsay was in the audience to watch Ben Lewis playing him in a spoof of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ("why I'm miscast/I'm dirty rotten to the last") as well as Me and My Girl in which he once so famously starred literally next door.
Instead of being on the outside looking in, Forbidden Broadway is now on the inside: a kind of Trojan horse from which to amount an assault - and hurl the occasional insult - on the West End and its values. It's mostly done, though, with sincere good affection and intentions, though there's a late lobby at the increasing corporatisation of the theatre that gives serious cause for thought.
But just as importantly they never allow it to go stale. Though some sketches are as timeless as the shows they portray - the Les Mis staging is an all-time classic, and I wonder if I'll ever be able to watch Les Mis again without thinking of it - others have already been taken out and replaced since the summer. Gone is The Pajama Game; in are now new sketches for the revivals of Evita and Cats.
The cast has also had a major change. Sophie-Louise Dann has left - she has a role in Made in Dangenham that opens next door next month - but she's been replaced by the knockout talents of the extremely diminutive Christina Bianco. Best known for her youtube videos, she's a brilliant impressionist and those skills have been highlighted here with break-outs for her vivid, ripe impressions of such personalities as Elaine Paige, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Bernadette Peters.
The remaining three - Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis - work their socks off as before to provide one of the all-round most entertaining evenings on show in the West End at the moment.
"In an age when improvised shows such as Showstoppers! demonstrate on-the-hoof wit, ingenuity and musical skill, Gerard Alessandrini’s script can seem a trifle stodgy. The material is uneven: the first half is definitely stronger than the second, and it would benefit from losing 15 minutes."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
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