Monday, 15 February 2016

Forbidden Broadway's- Greatest Hits

The Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford is well known for producing fantastic pantomimes but this was the first time I had attended a show outside of the festive season...
When Forbidden Broadway opened in January 1982, billed as an Off Broadway Revue show that not only ridiculed musicals but also the stars of the shows themselves. Sharply scripted by Gerald Alessandrini it has spawned over a dozen albums and has enjoyed performances across America as well as a successful tenure in London's West End. As a long time fan of musicals and theatre in general I am also only too aware of the opportunities they can provide for humorous pastiche and when this is performed well it can be just as entertaining as the shows themselves.

The amateur production of Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits at The Kenneth More Theatre promised to deliver a night of knowing entertainment. The Theatre has a reputation for delivering an impressive standard of theatre and at a time of cuts to funding of the arts and closure of theatre after theatre it is something that I passionately support. The shows cast comprised of six actors (Michelle Bock, Phillip Rowland, Anna Hallas Smith, Jonathan Sanders, Sasha Herst and Harry Ward) accompanied on stage by Steven Day at the Piano (Day also took on Directorial responsibilities) No notes on the actors were included in the program but judging by the vocal talent these are rising stars. I appreciate that costs have to be kept down but it would have been nice to know a little about the talented actors I was watching and the back page of the program would have been better used to this effect.

Staging for the performance was limited with just the piano at the side and a chandelier hanging for a Phantom themed song in Act 2. Special mention has to be given to the glittery back curtain which changed colour as the night progressed. As you would expect from a revue show the emphasis is very much on performance and the cast did not disappoint. I have always believed that in order to effectively "send up" a chosen subject, whether it is art or theatre, you have to be a master of your art. If you cannot perform at a high level then all you end up spewing out is bad art and, in this case, poor theatre. Spoofing well loved musical theatre is a dangerous past time as those that are fans can be rabidly dedicated in their protection of theatrical love. Fortunately, I was in safe hands and the vocal talents on display would not be out of place on a West End stage.

Moving from viciously accurate thrusts aimed at Chicago or the back catalogue of Stephen Sondheim to more personal attacks on Mandy Patinkin the casts vocal range and talent impressed at every turn. Of particular note were the two musical numbers that assaulted Les Miserables and as throughout Alessandrini's sparklingly acerbic lyrics hit their mark, and they hit it hard. All six of the cast members demonstrate an ability to entertain and are all going to be treading the boards for the duration of their careers. Highlights for me were the fantastic performances by Harry Ward as The Phantom and Anna Hallas Smith, channelling a wonderful Ethel Murmmmmmman. As a huge fan of Les Miserables I really was looking forward to the glorious and mockingly exuberant rendition of "Bring Him Home" or "God It's High" as the Forbidden Broadway team like to call it. The, relatively short, running time of 1 hour and a half went by in no time with no moments of drag or lack lustre performance. Despite all efforts to advertise the theatre was painfully empty, with an audience of 30 on a Saturday night, this was in no way a reflection of the quality of the show. We have a rich heritage in this country of fine repertory theatre and my fear is that this wonderful history is to come to an abrupt halt if audiences do not support their local theatres. I urge you to seek out your local theatre and make regular visits because they will not be in existence forever if audiences don't return and in large numbers. The show MUST go on!

You can have a look at whats on at The Kenneth More Theatre here 

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