Posts Tagged ‘Forbidden Broadway’

Review – Forbidden Broadway 2014 – Menier Chocolate Factory

July 25, 2014

Ah, Forbidden Broadway. In a world full of people maddened by sport, this is my one chance to do an event with my people, appealing to our sense of humor: jokes about our passion – the theater. If you’ve seen it before, you might find the extended look at Les Miserables looking a bit shopworn; similarly, the Lion King shtick is no longer fresh (although for some reason I still think the Liza Minelli bit is funny).

But you do get some seriously barbed new material in this year’s revue. Among the shows they roasted were: Pajama Game; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which got its own number mocking the show’s technical failures and hum drumness as well as featuring in a “Sunday Roast” skewering the use of child actors); and Once (I still haven’t seen it but after listening to this tour of the show’s plot holes I feel like it may have been a bullet dodged). More generally, we were given a lovely song making fun of ticket touts to a tune from Guys and Dolls, and a number satirizing the involvement of corporations on Broadway. This was was too New York focused for me – with ATG and Delfont Mackintosh controlling so much of what is shown on the West End, I think a whole new piece could have been done.

But still: let’s examine the Blythe Spirit number, in which Angela Lansbury appears to answer the question of why she is appearing in an old show. Why, she replies, if I wanted something good, I’d summon up the spirits of my old and great friends and have them write something for me … because what I’m given is shlock. Now, with the brilliant state of new playwriting in London, I wouldn’t agree that you need Noel Coward back from the dead to create a show worth seeing … but when it comes to musicals, I think she has a point. Which is true of many of the songs in this show – and why I enjoyed it so much. I won’t normally splash out on full price tickets, but for once (and in part because, let’s be honest, full price at the Menier Chocolate Factory is hardly the same as full price for Skylight, is it) I did, and for me – and for you, if you’re reading this – it is an indulgence worth every penny.

(This review is for a performance that took place July 11th. The run has just been extended by two weeks, so why not do yourself a favor during the August doldrums and go for it? If you sympathize with the trials and tribulations of the hard core theater goer, this evening is made for you!)

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

Review – Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

July 2, 2009

On Tuesday it was time for the highlight of my theatrical summer season. I’m not talking about the sold-out, anti-sunny days Jude Law’s HamletGodot is a no go – and while the all-male Pirates of Penzance might be fun, nothing had tickled my theatrical “gotta go” bone like the launch of Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory, an event I heard about months in advance and decided to go to in the kind of blind, not-even-concerned-about-ticket-price way large producing organizations salivate over. I had a great time when I’d seen this show in New York on Christmas Day. It seemed to be written for me – a jaded old “been there, seen that, left at intermission” gal who is torn between her true and deep love of the theater and her dislike of wasting her time on tripe. All I wanna do is see a show that sends me out into the night singing my heart out … and a show making fun of the foibles of the world of theater seemed like just the ticket. And it was.

I wondered, though: was this going to be a straight import, the same show and cast I’d seen before? I’m pleased to report the cast is all original (and English), and the various numbers, while they may not be original, are at least widely varied from “Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab” – 70% of the first half was different, and about half the about half of the second half was.

Skipping ahead to the “but was it good” bit, well, I laughed my head off. Off course, the evening was spiked by going in the company of the West End Whingers, who about split their pants when they were namedropped in the first number (“All That Chat”). (I’m convinced this destroyed any semblance of distance they might have attempted to maintain for the rest of the evening. And of course I was seething with envy. Sure, I might have been mentioned in the New York Times on Sunday, but on stage? I was green.)

The thing was, though, even though that one bit was especially funny, it was met by song after song that had us in stitches. OH the wrong of the Billy Elliot/Elton John number, OH the campness of the Hairspray number, OH just SO many clever songs. I got a little tired toward the end of act one (the long Lion King and Les Mis pieces kind of wore me out), but by the end of the evening I was singing along (it was a singalong and not just because I was drunk, as I was not, though this changed afterwards) and completely charged up and pleased.

Part of this was, I think, because the performers were just totally on. Sophie-Louse Damn had a certain twitch to her upper lip that had me nearly hysterical, and everyone really had the pipes (and personal endurance) to make it thorugh the evening in high style. But my God, Steven Kynman’s Daniel Radcliffe put the American version to shame – his flitatiousness and insouciance, the little wink and giggle, made it just so painfully shameless that I laughed far more than I had six months earlier. Well done!

Unfortunately, part of the “new” bit of the first half were pieces making fun of old stodgy shows that I don’t really consider part of London’s theater culture so much. FBGR was very much hitting the “what is happening right now” nose of the scene, so I was expecting a bit more relevance to UK theatre’s problems, such as the omnipresent juke box musical phenom (the Jersey Boys number sort of hit that, but the treatment indicated that it was a unique problem to this show), star-based casting and the lack of new shows (just how many versions of Hamlet do we need in a year, no matter who is in it?).

However, so many of the problems they described were shared on both sides of the Atlantic – overpriced tickets (mocked in an Oliver sketch that was done fresh for this production), the preference for cute shows over those with substance, and even (my personal favorite) the rise in the use of animated backdrops as sets (Carousel was the show being mocked, though I didn’t know it was being performed on Broadway – however, this problem has apparently cropped up again for the Kensington Gardens’ Peter Pan, which would be a good replacement for the “Finding Nemo” projection shown during this number). And while the Mary Poppins “Feed the Burbs” might have been seen mostly as a stab at the Disneyfication of Broadway (a huge theme for the December show), the broader theme … “Tepid! Vapid! Musicals pay! …” is just as true a sentiment here as it is in New York.

Despite the roasting of the negative aspects of Theatre-land, overall this show was very upbeat – it was about loving the theater, not hating it. (As Katy noted, the Hairspray number actually made us want to see it again, rather than making us writhe in shame at how much we like that show.) For me, it was all the fun I wished I’d had at Priscilla wrapped up in one tinselly (and tart) evening. I liked it so much I think I’m going to go back before the end of the run -in the hope that they’ll have added in some new numbers, but mostly just because it was such a good evening. With the timid attitude of producers today, it will be ages before something so witty turns up on the London stage again.

(This review is for a performance seen on Tuesday, June 30th. It continues through September 13th, 2009.)

Review preview: Hayward Gallery “Walking in my mind” and Menier Chocolate Factory’s “Forbidden Broadway”

July 1, 2009

An unexpected load of things to do during the day (and sunny weather causing me to not want to sit around typing) means I’m behind on my reviewing. Still, if you’re fishing around for some fun, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibit, Walking in My Mind, and the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Forbidden Broadway, both of which I saw this week. The Hayward exhibit is deliciously trippy and completely worth the cost of admission; I’d especially recommend going on a Friday night, when they’re open late. As for Forbidden Broadway, well, I saw it last night and just laughed my head off. It’s like it was especially written for theater geeks like me – all of the laughs I’d wished I’d been having at Priscilla and didn’t. Do go!

Back from vacation – June theater schedule

June 4, 2009

While I might do a writeup comparing the various aquariums I saw on my trip to other aquariums I’ve been to (and which was the best), or possibly comparing the shows at Marineworld France versus Seaworld Orlando … instead I’m catching up with work.

Theatergoing tends to slow down for me during the summer months – it’s hard to get motivated to go inside a dark theater when there are so many exciting things going on outside. (Not that Company at the Union Theatre wouldn’t get people to crawl out of their deathbeds, but it’s hard to know in advance.) I get in my usual Russian ballet treat in August, but mostly summers are more about hanging out with my friends and going to the coast.

At any rate, for readers of this blog (the five of you), what’s coming up for this month is:
7 June Sunday: Diaghilev tribute at the Royal Opera House (with a motley crew performing it)
8 June Monday: Phedre, National Theatre
9 June Tuesday: England (at the Whitechapel Gallery – site specific performance overcomes my dislike of being inside during the summer)
11 June Thurday: Been So Long at the Young Vic
13 June Saturday: Lulu, Royal Opera House
22 June Monday: Doll’s House at the Donmar
23 June Tuesday: Eonnagata, Sadler’s Wells
30 June Tuesday, the thing I’m most looking forward to: Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Note this joke publicity feature: the National Theater has announced that two plays “from acclaimed Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima” are to be performed in London. Let’s be clear: Mishima is an acclaimed novelist, but the play most recently produced that he authored (Madame De Sade) was uniformly trashed for being, well, a piece of crap, no fault of the performers. I suspect that the producers will seriously regret taking on this project, which only really has value for noveltly. I mean, TS Eliot was a great poet, but even he wasn’t a good playwright.

Review – Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab – 47th Street Theater

January 3, 2009

(Summary: I laughed a lot. Good if you have a few shots beforehand.)

Christmas Day in New York City: what would be the sure cure for not just the claustrophobia of too many relatives, but the saccharine-sweet taste of a Disneyfied Great White Way? Why, a musical revue that mocks all of it, aimed a bitter old gits who’ve seen so many shows they feel free to walk out at intermission if they feel like they’re not getting their $120 worth out of the evening. In short, this play was aimed right square at ME, and it was #2 on my list of things to see in New York, since August: Osage County had blissfully made it to the stage of London’s National Theatre and Xanadu had rather crushingly closed … and I’d manage to score tickets for and see South Pacific already. So Forbidden Broadway was number two on my list of shows to see – especially since this is supposed to be its very final incarnation. With tourists galore clogging the line at the TKTS booth, debating “Little Mermaid” or “Chicago,” we had no problem getting ourselves seats … and we were off!

Per my Playbill (God, it was nice to get free programs again!), the performers for the evening were Christina Bianco, Gina Kreiezmar, Michael West and (listed on the marquee) William Selby subbing for James Donegan (and David Caldwell on piano). The theater itself was tiny, maybe an 80 – 100 seater – decidedly intimate. The evening opened with a sort of “Alcoholics Anonymous” meeting: “Hi, my name is William … I haven’t been to a good show in 60 days. I am a Broadway addict.” “Hi, William.” Each of the group went around to introduce themselves (I liked the celebrity addict, who hadn’t stalked someone for all of six or so hours), then went into their first song, which introduced the theme of addiction to theater … in spite of the thin quality of offerings.

Then we went into an endless series of musical vignettes roasting most of the shows on at the moment, and even a few that aren’t (actually, I think only the Annie bit was for a show not happening – no, they had Xanadu, too – guess that bit was too good to cut!). They repeatedly mocked the Disneyfication of Broadway (I found the Little Mermaid number hysterical, especially after reading the pseudo-story in the Playbill about the actual star of that show – “As a young girl in Denver, Sierra dreamed of two things: being Ariel and going to Broadway.” Not bloody likely!), but countered this with a send-up of Spring Awakening, in which the actors whined about how they were never going to be able to take a show with so much sex on tour.

Straight shows were teased, too. I got a big kick out of the Daniel Radcliffe/Equus bit, which had the actor show up on stage in full Hogwarts gear, then basically strip down to a Fosse-like hat over his crotch. August: Osage County not only had a boxing match between the matriarch and her eldest daughter, but had several of the plot elements’ blatant debts to O’Neill mentioned – highlighting some parallels I’d apparently missed (since I’ve only seen one of his plays). There was also a sort of Sondheim tribute, in which Sondheim complained about how he keeps getting revived with only three piece bands to handle his full orchestration and “Bernadette Peters” begged him to write a new part for her, since he’d fried her voice.

Generallly, this show required little knowledge of the shows being mocked, as the witty lyrics were more than entertaining enough on their own. I would have got more out of it if I’d seen more of these shows, no doubt: I was about peeing myself during the South Pacific scene, especially when “Nellie Forbush” ran away from “DeBecque” because he had child … actors. And there was a certain amount of Broadway gossip that I’m just not privvy to (living as far away as I do, not that one couldn’t follow the online message boards and probably do a good job of keeping up) and some very, very in jokes that I think only the 14 year old red-headed boy in the audience was fully appreciating.

However, how can you not appreciate a song like (visualize Mary Poppins): “Feed the burbs … tuppence a bag … Tepid! Vapid! Musicals pay …” and the hysterical Frankenstein and Monster top hat and tails duet “Puttin’ up with Shit?” I was all ready to buy the CD to take home with me so I could keep laughing at home, but apparently this version of the show hasn’t been pressed yet. Oh well – seeing it live is what it’s all about, right? But the greatest moment of the night was when Gina Kreiezmar came on to do her Liza schtick. (I thought this was especially great because Liza’s new show had only been on for about two weeks, so I was impressed they’d been able to add it in so quickly.) She mugged, she hammed, she went on about how great it was that people were there to see her, she pretended like she cared about the audience at all, she forgot what she was doing, she rambled, she “subtlely” brought up her mom … she went crazy with the guy in the audience she went to address directly, who was Russian and had a name that sounded like Milk Cow. It was really over the top. Anyway, I thought this was a brilliant evening and really hope I have a chance to see Forbidden Broadway again – somehow!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 25th, 2008. Yes, we went and saw a play on Christmas Day, then we went to the Village and sang showtunes at Marie’s Crisis. It was a grand day!)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 376 other followers