REVIEW: Forbidden Broadway (Auckland Fringe)

Forbidden Broadway Auckland
The four stars: Kate Riegel, Charlotte West, Cameron Clayton and Paul Fagamalo

You can’t stop the camp!

Forbidden Broadway
Get your spirit fingers ready!

Forbidden Broadway is essential must-see viewing for any self-respecting Musical Theatre geek. Forbidden Broadway began its life in 1982 as a revue show created, written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, spoofing the Broadway scene and musicals.  It has run ever since, with Alessandrini constantly updated the show to keep up with the latest shows and trends.

Apparently broadway stars flocked to see the show and get autographs from the actors spoofing them; like all satire they only take offense if they aren’t included – the worst thing for a Broadway star is not to be talked about!

Auckland Music Theatre offer a ‘best of’ type package of Forbidden Broadway, taking some of the best bits over the years from spoofs of older shows like Hello Dolly, West Side Story through the British invasion of Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Miserable, Lloyd Webber’s CATS and Phantom of the Opera, right up to near current shows Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Spamalot.

AMT have set up cabaret table seating in their Westpoint theatre. The stage is bare apart from a sheer black drape hanging upstage. The lights are pretty, though I think different lighting states could have been utilized more to create mood and atmosphere. The dapper Musical Director Eddie Giffney sits at his piano stage right, and his accompaniment is superbly played all evening, very much in sync with the performers at all times.

Forbidden Broadway Auckland
The four stars: Kate Riegel, Charlotte West, Cameron Clayton and Paul Fagamalo

Ah yes, the performers. The sparse space means that they are very much in the spotlight, so to speak. In keeping with Forbidden Broadway tradition, four actors portray a company of different musical theatre characters and personalities, clocking up a huge amount of costume changes.  And do these guys deliver. At 17, Kate Reigel is the youngest; she posses a stunning voice and mature stage presence, this gal should go far. Her nicotine addicted former Annie child star (“I’m 30 years old, tomorrow”) is an early highlight, and she does a mean Lisa “One Note” Minelli. Charlotte West demonstrates a real flair for comedy, producing many of the night’s laughs.

 The guys are RENT co-stars Paul Fagamalo and Cameron Clayton, who are given a great chance to take the piss out of that show!  Fagamalo has a rich, soulful voice which he demonstrates as the Phantom of the Opera (once he gets taught how to sing at least). He also deserves praise for the succession of silly wigs and costumes he is subjected to, though he scrubs up nicely as Sweeney Todd. Clayton is a supreme all rounder, and particularly impressed when the spoofs asked him to get ‘dramatic’ and put on his ‘serious actor face’ – he bought the house down with the version of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, which as Broadway star Mandy Patinkin became ‘Somewhat overindulgent’.

Their individual talents all complement each other, and the really great moments in the show are when they all get to sing together in full voice. Although the songs are all parodies, with Pauline Vella’s direction they take it all seriously and commit fully. The choreography by Clayton Curnow is also very slick (and the take on Fosse brilliant). As a testament to their talent, I really wished I could see them in ‘real’ Broadway shows. Not that this isn’t real… but give them some money, a big theatre, and a hit show – I’d pay money to see ‘em.

The parodies range from the simple – Eponine’s tragic ‘On my Own’ becomes ‘On my phone’ , about a girl calling her friends backstage – to songs that require more technical knowledge such as Carol Channing’s revival history, or the works of Sondheim.  Les Miserable gets a very thorough going over (“at the end of the play you’re another year older”) to my delight.  

There is something inherently funny about changing song lyrics, but to really get the most out of the show you really do need to have a good working knowledge of Broadway stars and shows. I don’t think everyone knows who Carol Channing or Mandy Patinkin is, and some of the shows included are yet to reach these shores or have benefitted from a major professional production. There is certainly enough for the casual musical theatre fan to enjoy, but musical geeks will get a bigger kick out of it.

It is interesting to track Alessandrini’s takes on the history hit shows of Broadway, and the lyrics suggest a deeper soul searching about the genre and where it is going. Mega-smash jukebox musical Mamma Mia is called high art, but only because of the lesser shows that surround it. One of the later songs is ‘You can’t stop the camp’ (as in Hairspray’s ‘You can’t stop the beat’), where all the shows that are light on plot but big on ‘camp’ are listed. Spamalot’s ‘The song that goes like this’ (again, knowledge of this musical helps) is sung almost in its entirety, making the point that it’s not just off broadway Forbiden Broadway satirising Broadway shows these days.

Forbidden Broadway’s affectionate parodies are very much on the money, and it’s a spectacular night of entertainment. The show highlights the worst excesses of Musical theatre, but makes you love them even more. Musical Theatre fans must go.

Forbidden Broadways plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at Wespoint Theatre until 12th March.

More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.

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