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Review: Forbidden Broadway

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This show asks the self-deprecating question, "What do you expect from a fringe revival transfer?" It's a canny line. Forbidden Broadway exists to deflate the overblown, self-congratulatory hype that surrounds some of musical theatre's biggest hits. So, perhaps expecting a taste of its own medicine, it protects itself from getting kicked by kicking itself.

The self-harming done, this production proceeds to subvert many of the hugely expensive but money-making musical behemoths that bestride Broadway. And, for this London version, writer and creator Gerard Alessandrini has also targeted some of the West End's more deserving performers, productions and practitioners.

Since it started in 1982, the American version of this constantly updated show has become something of an institution in New York. Stage stars are known to drop in to watch themselves being lampooned, presumably because impersonation is the sincerest form of flattery. On this London press night, Robert Lindsay was in the stalls to witness a merciless ribbing of his own stage style - most recently seen in the musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - characterised here as all charm and very little talent.

It is largely musical theatre's big boys that come in for the most telling attacks. Cameron Mackintosh, for a formula that wows Americans with expensive spectacle; Bill Kenwright, for being the cheapskate opposite with shows that are decidedly low rent in terms of production values.

Here, cheap is a cheerful virtue. Phillip George's production has no more than four performers (and a pianist) on stage at one time. The set is little more than a spangly curtain. But the singing is as good or better as in any of the shows it makes fun of. It would have to be to credibly impersonate such stars as Mandy Patinkin, whose portentous delivery, performed by Damian Humbley, is hilariously on the money with a version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow changed to Somewhat Overindulgent. Ben Lewis captures the vainglorious essence of Hugh Jackman while Anna-Jane Casey is spot-on as the Frankie Valli character in Jersey Boys, delivering the, almost, well-known line, "Walk like a man, sing like a girl".

Best of all is Christina Bianco, known in the States as a singer-impressionist. That rather undersells her as a singer. The vocal range displayed in her vicious take of Wicked star Kristin Chenoweth is reedy nasal at one end of the spectrum and hurricane force at the other.

Many gags centre on the greed of stars and producers. All of which proves something I have long suspected about theatre criticism - that the bitchiest, most ruthless and insulting comments come not from critics, but from the peers of those on stage.

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