From I Can’t Sing! and Urinetown in early 2014 to the recently opened Cats and City of Angels, here’s an overview of UK Musical Theatre 2014. Can you see your favourites?
City of Angels – Donmar Warehouse
Josie Rourke’s wonderfully vibrant staging injects a whole new lease of life into a show that has never received the recognition it deserves. To create the worlds of our two heroes (colour for the author turned Hollywood screenwriter Stine; black and white for his fictional film noir detective Stone) would on paper seem like quite a challenge, but Rourke and a first-class design team – Robert Jones, Howard Harrison (lighting), Duncan Mclean (video and projection) – make it look incredibly easy.
Into the Woods – the movie – our verdict
But what we didn’t know was what a fine voice Emily Blunt has. She’s a revelation as the Baker’s Wife alongside Corden’s excellent Baker and I see she is already up for a Golden Globe, as is Streep who has a ball with a part she can ham up outrageously and get away with it.
Cats – London Palladium
As a star vehicle, then, it may falter a little. But Cats has never been about one name above all others, instead being an ensemble show that resembles nothing else. And in that vein, its revival is broadly welcomed.
Anything Goes – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Anything Goes promises tap dancing sailors, sassy heroines and delivers the perfect antidote to the pre- or post-Christmas blues with its wonderfully upbeat showstopping tunes and Alistair David’s toe-tapping choreography. The big dance title number before the interval is worth the entrance fee alone.
Assassins – Menier Chocolate Factory
So if you are an Assassins virgin (or even if you are not), it can be hard to follow. Not so much, though, in Lloyd’s aggressive production which works on practically every level, genuinely scary although now and again too loud for the space.
Once the Musical – Phoenix Theatre
Most vital of all though is a Guy’s chemistry with his Girl and both Ronan Keating and Jill Winternitz ensure this is as true and honest as it should be. The latter brings a haunting intensity and yearning to her role and it is heartbreaking to witness the sacrifice she makes at the story’s conclusion.
Made in Dagenham – Adelphi Theatre
However, beyond these bizarre distractions, Made is Dagenham is truly a show with heart and one that tells an important story with joy and sincerity (it was wonderful to see four of the original Dagenham ladies join the cast onstage at the final bows).
Sunny Afternoon – Harold Pinter Theatre
Already booking to next May following its much-awaited transfer from Hampstead to the West End, this belter of a show more than merits all the sparkling reviews already showered on it.
Sweeney Todd – Harrington’s pie-and-mash shop, Tooting
What a remarkable evening – Stephen’s Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd in a pie shop in Tooting. Something to tell the grandchildren, a one-off never to be forgotten.
Memphis the Musical – Shaftesbury Theatre
If you happen to be pining for the Great White Way, then a trip to the Shaftesbury Theatre may be in order, for while Memphis the Musical isn’t perfect, it boasts many of the qualities that make Broadway shows so special.
The Scottsboro Boys – Garrick Theatre
Director Susan Stroman’s impressionistic storytelling style – an almost bare stage, with just nine chairs to act as railroad cars, cell walls, and the like – effectively compresses an eight-year-long story of judicial oppression into a taut hour and 50 minutes, continuing the recent vogue for interval-free offerings.
The Infidel – The Musical – Theatre Royal Stratford East
But the happy ending – including a repetition of the hilarious riff “fatty-fatty-fatwa” which stays in the head long after the curtain comes down – should leave the audience, of any faith or none, feeling more appreciative of other cultures, as well as having had a great time.
Gypsy – Chichester Festival Theatre
Imelda Staunton is magnificent as Rose, a bulldozing monster, ignorant of the damage she creates and feelings she hurts, pushing her children to achieve the fame that she desires for herself. Yet Staunton punctuates her ferociousness with moments of comedy, vulnerability and even flirtatious sexuality.
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
The encore of Here Lies Love brings the temperature back up again, ensuring that the audience disperse singing the show’s strongest melody. And, if they have any sense, wondering when they can see this barnstorming barrage of disco fun again.
Into the Woods – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
Such is the strength of Sondheim’s songwriting, Into the Woods – like most his shows – can be endlessly reinterpreted, and this is certainly one of the best interpretations I’ve seen of it.
Damn Yankees – Landor Theatre
It’s a musical with a big heart and if you come away not feeling a good deal better than when you arrived, you must have a heart as stony as the devil himself.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Twickenham Theatre
Certainly, it’s the bloodiest, and at Twickenham you can’t miss the gore because the audience sits right on top of the stage in a claustrophobic, foggy chamber setting much as Sondheim will have imagined it when he wrote music and lyrics to Wheeler’s story back in 1979.
Top Hat – New Wimbledon Theatre and Touring
We know the choreography is going to be splendid because Bill Deamer won an Olivier for it, ditto Jon Morrell’s costume design, while, with Hildegard Bechtler (set) and Gareth Owen (sound) also Olivier-nominated, this much-garlanded show, directed by Matthew White and adapted for the stage by him and Howard Jacques, has nothing left to prove.
Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse
But the real hero is Laura Jane Matthewson, who in her professional debut nails Rose’s sweet innocence, growing self-confidence and emerging strength and humour. For all Dogfight’s problems with the objectification of women, this engaging, watchable show is a vehicle for a new musical theatre star.
Thérèse Raquin – Park Theatre
The power and electricity of this high-octane piece is clear for all to see.
Marry Me a Little – St James Studio Theatre
This delicate, enchanting piece, with MD David Randall’s masterful accompaniment a subtle delight, more than makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity and as one New York critic said of the original: “Short, smart and sweet!”
Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructing Broadway – Leicester Square Theatre
Let’s hope it’s not too long though before he returns with some new deconstructions – who knows, next time they could even include the cast recording of his own Broadway musical.
Dessa Rose – Trafalgar Studios
Andrew Keates’ production is full of moments when the back of the throat catches and eyes develop a little dampness. One such falls to Cassidy Janson, as Ruth, sings of her loneliness, having been abandoned by her husband. Janson gives a superb performance throughout, which is equalled by Cynthia Erivo as Dessa. She too gets to wrench the heartstrings as she sings of the ‘Twelve Children’ born to her mother with her being the only one left, her siblings having being sold into slavery or died early. Eviro’s sublime performance captures every facet of Dessa’s complex character.
Kristin Chenoweth – Royal Albert Hall
Most of all she made every song her own, whatever the genre, whether it be musical theatre, country, gospel or disco – her versatility was the thing that impressed the most, along with her relationship with the audience.
Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory
You’re unlikely to find a better source of musical comedy this summer.
Miss Saigon – Prince Edward Theatre
This is a visually stunning, exciting production that will not disappoint and is likely to continue to break hearts for many years to come.
In the Heights – Southwark Playhouse
With its progressive, Latin and hip-hop score, searing choreography and such a committed ensemble cast, In the Heights is both aspirational and inspirational and deserves a much wider audience than six weeks at the Southwark Playhouse will allow
The Pajama Game – Shaftesbury Theatre
Now this zingalong Richard Eyre production, transferring from Chichester with at least five songs that are musical theatre classics – because we mustn’t forget ‘There Once Was a Man’ or ‘Once-a-Year-Day’ either – is back in the West End for a four-month spin at the Shaftesbury. And still with the same boundless energy, amazing Stephen Mear choreography, and a near-perfect cast.
Water Babies – Curve, Leicester
Only now is the technology and timing right for putting Charles Kingsley’s moral fairy tale on to the musical stage, suggests its co-producer, Peter Shaw.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy Theatre
In many ways Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a good old-fashioned musical comedy packed with plenty of self-referential humour. However, its success depends on whether audiences want to spend a whole evening in the company of a pair of ‘dirty rotten guys’ such as Jameson and Benson. Will they or won’t they?
I Can’t Sing! – London Palladium
Undoubtedly the star of this show is the hugely talented Cynthia Erivo, who plays the unassuming Chenice. A gift to London’s musical theatre stage, Erivo’s touching performance hits all the right notes emotionally while her vocal theatrics raise the roof.
Urinetown – St James Theatre
But the most outstanding performance comes from Jenna Russell who de-glamorises herself to play Penelope Pennywise, the custodian of Amenity No 9 – a comic grotesque in the mould of Nellie Lovett.
It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre
The lack of special effects is an asset here. A Superman prop flying above the stage is hilarious every time it appears and the staging by Randy Smartnick is always clever.
Sister Act – HMP Bronzefield and Pimlico Opera
Forget The Book of Mormon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory –the musical event of the year, and any year, is taking place in a prison gymnasium not far from Heathrow.
The Threepenny Opera – Nottingham Playhouse and Touring
We owe it to Graeae Theatre Company, the pioneering London-based ensemble that classes itself, rightly, as ‘a force for change in the theatre, breaking barriers, challenging preconceptions, boldly placing disabled artists centrestage’ that this often stunning production of the Brecht/Weill farrago proves such a visual and musical feast.
Drunk – Bridewell Theatre
Director/choreographer Drew McOnie’s first foray into a bold new world where dance elements are as strong as the music in musical theatre is a real success.
Oh What a Lovely War – Theatre Royal Stratford East
Although 50 years old the show still packs an emotive punch with the final scene leaving a powerful and heartbreaking image. French soldiers, led like lambs to slaughter, slowly advance bleating until they are cut down one by one.
Putting It Together – St James Theatre
The production is blessed with five consummate performers who provide a veritable firecracker of a show that has the audience continuously roaring approval and applauding at length. With so many polished gems to choose from it is hard to pick a shortlist.
Tell Me On a Sunday – St James Theatre
It’s nostalgia time at the St James with Marti Webb bravely re-creating the one-woman Tell Me On a Sunday show of almost 32 years ago that took her out of the shadow of Elaine Paige and turned her from high-class understudy and go-to girl if you wanted a job done properly and professionally, into a genuine star.
* This is just a snapshot of the productions Musical Theatre Review covered in 2014, there are plenty of international reviews, coverage of cabaret, and of student musical theatre shows – don’t forget to have a look!