Perfect for any theatre lover, ‘Forbidden Broadway’ is witty, charming and just a little bit cheeky. Written in 1982, ‘Forbidden Broadway’ was originally created by Gerard Alessandrini as a small cast cabaret that parodies famous Broadway musicals and popular Broadway stars. Casa Mia Productions selected to perform ‘Volume 1’ of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ on an intimate stage with a theatre restaurant vibe.
Combining dinner and a show, theatre restaurants originate from the United States. Traditionally, a theatre restaurant allows a meal to be secondary to that of a staged performance. ‘Forbidden Broadway’ is set within Casa Mia’s Italian restaurant, audiences are taken into an intimate world of theatre in-jokes accompanied by some tasty eats and treats. As for the venue itself, audiences had to wait outside in the heat for quite some time before being seated. This left an air of uncertainty of where to go or what to do, especially as it neared time for the curtain. However, once inside, the audience was pulled into the world of the show.
‘Forbidden Broadway’ is different from your traditional fully staged show. The show is comprised of ‘skits’ lampooning some of Broadway’s biggest and best known shows. The cast switches between various characters and song numbers constantly, using a simple set and minimal token props to do so. Within this cast, each actor or actress was well-suited to the characters they brought to life and their voices suited the associated numbers.
Audiences felt very much included in the production and were encouraged to participate and sing along as the cast brought the hilarity to life. As with all good parodies, the show’s main aim is to get an audience laughing at the truth of its jokes and puns, and this production left everyone chuckling!
As both Director and Music Director, Sean Fagan has brought together a cast of six enthusiastic performers to bring this charismatic cabaret to life. Fagan tackled his dual responsibilities to produce a show that enabled performers to demonstrate their many skills and talents, whilst also presenting something a little bit different to a staged musical production.
There were some moments during the show that could have been elevated with clearer direction for the actors, with most numbers feeling repetitive in their structure, and the cast rotating through a choice of ‘park and bark’, roaming performers, or a group dance. Given the workload and the sheer amount of music involved, it may have benefitted to have split the roles of Director and Musical Director. However, Fagan should be applauded for his outstanding piano accompaniment whilst also prompting and conducting the cast when needed.
Choreography by Lynette Wockner was simple, with sneaky nods to some well-known musical moves that all theatregoers and performers would recognise. Some numbers featured a lapse in cohesion, which was made more obvious due to the small cast size. With that in mind, some of the movement detracted from the singing and acting occuring and seemed occasionally pointless given the small scale of the stage. However, the cast clearly loved their time on stage and both Fagan and Wockner should be commended for their casting choices.
Musically, when all six performers were on stage, the fullness of their sound was a delight to hear. Despite some bung notes in harmonies, or some missed lyrics in the fast paced numbers, the energy of the show was able to detract the audience’s attention from some of the more notable mistakes. The familial feel of the staging and dining arrangement was conducive to audiences being more sympathetic to mishaps due to the humourous nature of the show.
Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga was a star. Playing everything from Annie to Elphaba,she dazzled with every portrayal she was tasked to present. Of particular note, Kenny-Sumiga shone in her ‘Wicked’ tribute, ‘Defying Subtlety’ and as a washed up and tired Annie in ‘Tomorrow’. Within each performance, Kenny-Sumiga encapsulated the essence of the character within their specific role.
As Red from ‘Into the Woods’, Kenny-Sumiga showed amazing skill in breaking the fourth wall in the song ‘Into the Words’, both entertaining and including the audience, particularly when teaching the audience a verse. Kenny-Sumiga has a powerful and sultry voice and used this to her advantage in every song, which left audiences absolutely encapsulated by her performances.
In a ‘Les Miserables’ tribute, Andrew Alley was a particular high point. His portrayal of ‘It’s Too High’ was both enchanting and hilarious. Alley was always energetic and enigmatic when on stage, however even when obviously forgetting lyrics, his performance style still encapsulated the notion of what was intended during his song ‘Cameron McIntosh’. Similarly, Roger Davy demonstrated a diverse array of talent within his various roles. Of note, Davey’s ‘Cats’ moment was endearing and entertaining. Davy was also impressive in his Phantom parody.
In her many moments, Nikki Fagan displayed her crisp whimsical wit. Fagan was particularly comical in her ‘Les Miserables’ homage, playing up on the idea of a woeful waif, and her enthusiasm for theatre is evident. Although her stage experience has been limited when compared with her other cast members, and she is clearly not yet as comfortable as some of the others, it is clear that with more experience, Fagan will blossom into a solid performer.
Sandra Harman was impeccable. Between her many moments, Harman harnessed the essence of her characters and made them her own. She never missed a beat and completely owned the stage. Most notably, Harman’s Carol Channing was sheer perfection. Bringing Barbara to life on an Ipswich stage, Harman displayed her vocal prowess within the number ‘Back to Broadway’.
Rounding out the cast, Gary Farmer Trickett was incredible to watch. Between his crooning vocals and charming stage presence, Farmer-Trickett was well versed in his roles and allowed his talents to shine through. His rendition of ‘Somewhat Overindulgent’ was an absolute riot. Farmer-Trickett’s performances were a perfect blend of campiness and comedy. Although the whole cast worked incredibly well together, Harman and Farmer-Trickett’s on stage chemistry and comical timing during ‘The Song They Stole From Us’ absolutely stole the show.
With a simple set that paid homage to a classic theatre setting with red curtains and gorgeous lights, the staging was perfect for this cabaret set-up. Costuming was well suited to the needs of the characters, with just enough of a link to the real Broadway counterpart that audiences could easily understand both the show and character being portrayed. The sound by Steve Maples and Ben Murray should also be commended, as it was the perfect balance for such an intimate and modest space.
‘Forbidden Broadway’ was certainly a show to experience and definitely one that all theatre lovers would enjoy. Although only running for one weekend, Casa Mia Productions produced a team of well-rounded performers who clearly loved what they were doing. Casa Mia Productions is definitely a company to watch and audiences should look forward to more theatre restaurant opportunities in the heart of Ipswich.
Bethany Warnes-Jones is a self-confessed theatre addict. Falling in love with the stage as a young child, Bethany has been involved in many a show and easily comes alive when on the stage. Bethany also loves to spend her free time seeing as much theatre as humanly possible, so reviewing for TheFourthWall is a dream!