By Gerald Alessandrini
Directed by Andrea Maxwell
Review Date 20/05/2017
Balancing my handful of chips and a mini bottle of wine on my lap at Abbey Musical Theatre’s latest production ‘Forbidden Broadway’ I leafed through the programme and felt a bit ignorant – there were a lot of acts I hadn’t experienced in their original form, maybe I wouldn’t understand the parody act. It seems the more theatre you’ve experienced the more you’ll get out of this show – sort of like a reward for your support. It’s really a bit of an inside joke and Abbey Musical Theatre invite you to have a laugh at their expense.
Musical director Kirsten Clark is the first to take to the stage. She takes her place behind the piano and that’s where she stays for the entirety of the show. She both fades into the background and interacts with the cast throughout – a role she carries out seamlessly and naturally. The programme informs me that Kirsten might be ‘sh*tting herself’ to be sitting on the stage playing the piano – it’s a huge responsibility after all, but one that she carries off beautifully.
The show starts and it’s all a bit weird and disconcerting. Everything seems a bit off-centre and under or overdone. It takes me a couple of acts to really grasp what they are up to. I come to realise I’m over-thinking things and need to just go with it. Time starts to fly by and we are really enjoying a great laugh. I cannot possibly begin to mention everything that happened because so many things did – but it was light-hearted, joyful, inclusive, insightful and intimate.
Abbey theatre really made a meal out of this production and I enjoyed the full degustation that they served up. It was a bit like getting all your favourite desserts but smashed to bits and relabelled as ‘deconstructed’. Director Andrea Maxwell has given a group of talented and experienced thespians an opportunity to work together and cook up a really good time, and the results do not suffer from ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’. The set is sparse, the costumes not that impressive, but the overall texture is real and gritty.
Each actor carried off multiple characters (which is why it’s so hard to comment on individual performances) and picturing them all giggling and guffawing back stage as they wriggled out of one outfit and into another is quite delightful. It’s as if all the understudies, extras, and stagehands have leaped into the costume room after hours, grabbed some outfits and put on an impromptu show purely for their own entertainment. As an audience it feels intimate to get a glimpse behind the scenes and to feel like a confidante as they air their frustrations.
An audience favourite, and standout performer appearing in many different acts was Liam Peter Taylor. Because I’m ‘getting down with the theatre lingo’ I can identify that Liam is a ‘triple threat’ a supreme dancing, singing and acting machine. Particular highlights of his roles were as Barbara Streisand, and in his Cats parody, but there’s plenty to enjoy about the plethora of delights he served up.
Sophia Parker gets a special mention because I love her crazy curly head and I can’t possibly pretend to be unbiased. Her ability to do spoof musicals suits her personality very well and her combination of sexy and silly is very alluring. Jo Sale played a diverse range of roles from crass to touching, seemingly slipping with ease from one role to another. Her role strolling on stage as a dishevelled Annie, smoking a cigarette was an all too brief treat. Ben Pryor and Julie Cullen were a great double act and involved the audience in an enjoyable and fun way. Julie managed to sparkle mischievousness from her eyes, I kind of wanted to run backstage with her and get drunk.
The depiction of Les Miserables left me feeling the least miserable of all the miserable times I've seen that long and depressing show. It seems that it's not just the audience that finds it an endurance act to get through. Laughing during Les Mis this time was not a sign I was finally losing my mind but the great relief in seeing a bunch of actors kick its miserable arse around with glee.
I never got tired in my seat (despite the fact that they are terribly economy class seats), I never yawned and hoped the end was coming, in fact the finale came as a surprise. This was a delightfully pared back show that I had the pleasure to enjoy, and my joy was amplified by seeing how much the cast were enjoying themselves.