Musical Theatre 2016 – a reflection – what was your favourite?

Musical Theatre Review reflects on an incredibly busy year of theatre – in the West End, on the London Fringe, across the UK – and picks a selection of shows from each month that topped the FOUR and FIVE star ratings with our contributors.

Sophie Thompson and David Haig in Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre, London. Picture: Paul Coltas

Sophie Thompson and David Haig in Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre, London. Picture: Paul Coltas

JANUARY

Guys and Dolls – Savoy Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘a magnificent cast and choreography (by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright) to die for, with timing which allows the audience space to think and appreciate, and you’ve got one of the best musical productions I’ve seen in a long time.’

Grey Gardens – Southwark Playhouse, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘a musical which is incendiary in its power, and a performance which demonstrates that Jenna Russell is one of the most engaging actors to watch.’

Show Boat – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Along with the recent production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Leeds, it appears that musical theatre is alive and well in Yorkshire.’

Cabaret – Aberdeen Arts Centre Theatre

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘The entertainment value is there big-time and the immersive audience experience highlights the value of interactive theatre.’

Blood Brothers – Congress Theatre, Eastbourne and on tour

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘No wonder the packed house rose to its feet and gave the show the ovation that it deserved.’

Ian Bartholomew and Tracie Bennett in Mrs Henderson Presents at Theatre Royal Bath. Picture: Nobby Clark

Ian Bartholomew and Tracie Bennett in Mrs Henderson Presents. Picture: Nobby Clark

FEBRUARY

Mrs Henderson Presents – Noel Coward Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Terry Johnson’s musical reworking of the 2005 movie about that great Soho institution, the ‘We Never Closed’ Windmill Theatre, and what it did for male morale in the dark days of the ‘Second World War, is a very British, frequently moving trip down memory lane that has its heart in the right place.’

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Lyttelton Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘All in all, this is a moving and multi-faceted piece of work. Everything from the set design (functional but with a sparse elegance to it, by Ultz) to the musical numbers (Tim Sutton) is top-notch.’

Tell Me On a Sunday – Watermill Theatre, Newbury and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Returning to the Watermill stage following a national tour in the title role of Calamity Jane, Jodie Prenger restrains her natural effervescence to encapsulate the character of Emma as she struggles through her mismatched relationships with a variety of men.’

Avenue Q – Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘I highly recommend going to see this Sell a Door Theatre Company production directed by Cressida Carré. It’s a fantastic evening’s entertainment and will have me laughing to myself for weeks to come.’

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Blackpool Opera House and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘While diminutive in stature but powerful in voice Joe McElderry received an extremely warm reception for his speedy return to the resort…The X Factor in his case proves Britain has got talent.’

LR Lara Stubbs (Lesley), Adam Bregman (Eliot). Bar Mitzvah Boy Production Stills March 2016 Bar Mitzvah Boy Presented by Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment. Directed by Stewart Nicholls. Music by Jule Styne. Lyrics by Don Black. Upstairs at the Gatehouse Thurs 4 March to Sun 10 April 2016. Press perf 10 March 7.30pm. Box Office 0208 340 3488. Running time 2hrs 15.

Lara Stubbs and Adam Bregman in Bar Mitzvah Boy at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London. Picture: Kim Sheard Photography

MARCH

Miss Atomic Bomb – St James Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Its originality derives from the British sense of wackiness and love of inspired lunacy. How else could you take the subject of nuclear testing in the Nevada desert and turn it into an evening of exhilarating fun.’

Bar Mitzvah Boy – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘In paring the show back to a Fringe size, director Stewart Nicholls has helped Bar Mitzvah Boy finds its place in the world. At the sprightly age of 38 years, this is a musical that has finally grown up.’

Annie – Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Nikolai Foster’s charming staging (originally created at the West Yorkshire Playhouse) has been on the road since 11 July last year and it’s not showing any signs of travel sickness’

The Last Five Years – New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘This is a show that lives and dies by its casting and Chris Cowley and Katie Birtill are more than up to the challenge of carrying the whole enterprise on their shoulders.’

Michael Xavier and Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Xavier and Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard at the London Coliseum. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

APRIL

Sunset Boulevard – London Coliseum

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Musically, (Michael) Xavier and (Siobhan) Dillon are never less than utterly dependable, and in a show which wants to emphasise the score’s musical majesty, having two such great performances in key roles goes a long way to ensuring this production’s quality.’

The Toxic Avenger – Southwark Playhouse

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Without a doubt this show will challenge your ability to stomach the absurd. If silly is your style then you will laugh your head off from start to finish.’

Princess Caraboo – Finborough Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘One hopes that this beautiful, charming, funny musical gets the chance to work on a bigger stage, and to larger audiences, for musicals this good do not come along often enough.’

Only the Brave – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

‘A team of world-class creatives headed by Welsh-born composer Matthew Brind, and including director/lyricist Steve Marmion, handles every aspect with a sure and delicate touch, extending to the injections of earthy – on occasion, crude – and typically British humour along the way (necessary in a piece of musical theatre focusing on such momentous and serious issues).’

All Or Nothing –The Mod Musical – The Vaults Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

‘The story might be all too familiar… but All Or Nothing fizzes with an infectious energy and enthusiasm that sets it apart from the others…it also has a carefully crafted script by actress and producer Carol Harrison.’

Photos: Anthony Robling

Parade at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Picture: Anthony Robling

MAY

Jekyll & Hyde – The Old Vic, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Jekyll & Hyde may be a full two-act dance, but in all elements, it contains more storytelling, greater cohesiveness and more thrilling visuals than most new West End musicals. It feels criminal that this run is so short – but it will undoubtedly have a further life in the future’

The Buskers Opera – Park Theatre, London.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘It may not be the best production of the year so far, but it may just be the best new musical.’

Parade – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘This 150-seater theatre isn’t the most generous of performing spaces, but a 15-strong cast – appearing far larger at times – is cleverly deployed to fill every nook and cranny without ever cluttering up the stage, evocatively lit by Aaron J Dootson and dressed simply but effectively by Victoria Hinton.’

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour – Theatre Royal, Brighton and on tour

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘This show is rude, crude, fast, furious and filthy and above all it is wickedly hilarious… what a cast director Vicky Featherstone is blessed with. Their acting and singing talent, along with their energy, is breathtaking.’

Singin’ in the Rain – Salisbury Playhouse and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Singin’ in the Rain is a fabulous evening out – the costumes are gorgeous, the singing and dancing sublime and the rain is splendidly wet.’

Billy Elliot the Musical – Alhambra Theatre, Bradford and tour

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘There are many reasons to see this show, but to see the incredible talent and enthusiasm of the young performers is the best reason of all.’

Roy Tan

The Go-Between at the Apollo Theatre. Picture: Roy Tan

JUNE

The Go-Between – Apollo Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘I loved it, particular the nigh-on perfect Act I with Crawford’s soaring, fluttering ‘Butterfly’, the one song from the show that could stand on its own, still sending shivers down the spine and a tear rolling down my face.’

Titanic – Charing Cross Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘ If  Titanic, a quite sensational piece of theatre, is anything to go by, this cosy place is going to offer top quality shows married to first-rate value…it’s the best ticket in town, certainly for the price.’

It is Easy to Be Dead  – Finborough Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘There are moments and characters of much resonance throughout, points of reflection, sublime poetry and humanity rooted within it, and a soundtrack to feed the soul.’

Into the Woods – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Unlike the disappointing 2014 film version, (James) Brining manages to sustain audience attention throughout the declining pace of Act II. Bringing multiple moral lessons home to roost is not easy to pull off with theatre audiences, but the quest is successful here.’

Oliver! – The Grange, Northington, Hampshire

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘As soon as the extraordinary Jodie Jacobs takes to the stage towards the end of Act I, lifting a perfectly serviceable but far-from-sensational show to a different level, we know ‘It’s a Fine Life’ and well worth going the extra mile for.’

Declan Bennett in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Picture: Roy Tan

Declan Bennett in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

JULY

Into the Woods – Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Watching this inventive, charming and thoroughly engrossing revamp is like seeing this much-done show for the first time again.’

Jesus Christ Superstar – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Drew McOnie’s stunningly original choreography creates a visual narrative so that the rhythmic, expressive dance drama fully complements the feelings being expressed in words. The chorus work is a real tour de force in a show which isn’t exactly short of them.’

The Stripper – St James Studio, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Stripper is tremendous fun. Whether it too attracts a cult following, only time will tell.’

Babes in Arms – Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

‘If you like this kind of show, you’ll like what All Star has done with Babes. It’s a fascinating slice of musical theatre history but, more importantly, it’s also a jolly good night out.’

Half a Sixpence – Chichester Festival Theatre

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘With a wide toothy grin, newcomer Charlie Stemp steps into the shoes of Tommy Steele, the original Kipps, and endears himself to his audience with a performance that exudes cheeky charm. To his sense of comedy he brings his talents as a singer and exuberant dancer, leaving the audience breathless from just watching.’

Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic. Photo by Manuel Harlan (2-72-Edit)

Andy Karl in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic, London. Picture: Manuel Harlan

AUGUST

Groundhog Day – Old Vic Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Although Groundhog Day is by no means perfect, the swelling in the heart it delivers is greater than many less ambitious productions could ever muster.’

Children of Eden – Union Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘In director Christian Durham’s interpretation, we see a production infused with simple charms, great voices and inventive puppetry that all contribute to a vision of the Bible story that can be of inspiration to all.’

Allegro – Southwark Playhouse, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘With the team of director Thom Southerland and producer Danielle Tarento in place, it emerges as a most engaging period piece with a melodically rich score that is propelled along under Dean Austin’s alert musical direction.’

Little Shop of Horrors – New Wimbledon Theatre and on tour

‘One’s thing for sure – this production brings out everything that is great about the original work, and may well be the best touring musical of the year.’

Thoroughly Modern Millie – Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Perhaps it’s in the air, there is definitely something about this hidden gem of a venue that seems to bring out the best in its creatives.’

Made in Dagenham – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘The whole production really is worthy of the West End and I would go so far as to say it’s the best show I’ve seen at the Queen’s Theatre (director Douglas Rintoul, choreographer Tim Jackson).’

Picture: Scott Rylander

Out There at the Union Theatre, London. Picture: Scott Rylander

SEPTEMBER

Mandela Trilogy – Royal Festival Hall, London and on tour

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Cape Town Opera’s excellent touring production of Mandela Trilogy is simply unmissable, given the broad appeal of its assorted styles, the power of its storyline and the strength of its realisation in performance.’

Briefs – London Wonderground

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Not that it matters, but Briefs also has an important message: enjoy life, be what you want to be, and embrace differences.’

Vanities – The Musical – Trafalgar Studios, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Often the addition of music to a well-loved play feels like part of a machine deigned to over-milk a success. This doesn’t feel like one of those times. ’

Out There – Union Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘It firmly places Elliot Davis and James Bourne as a musical theatre partnership whose names guarantee an evening of quality entertainment.’

Kiss Me, Kate – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff and on tour

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

’An evening full of wit, dance and show-stopping hit numbers. All great numbers with foot-tapping rhythms and memorable lyrics that remain with you long after the curtain comes down.’

Anita

Anita Louise Combe in Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

OCTOBER

Floyd Collins – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘At the risk of repetition, put this show on your ‘must-see’ list. Experience says that if it speaks to you, you’ll have an unforgettable evening.’

Ragtime – Charing Cross Theatre, London

‘As the American Presidential election approaches, the themes of Ragtime seem as relevant as ever. Go along and see this production because its powerful message is never better delivered than here.’

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Murder Ballad – Arts Theatre, London

Murder Ballad provides an enjoyable, if short, musical treat that should appeal to audience of the Arts’ previous musical success, American Idiot, as much as it does to aficionados of contemporary New York musical writing, of rock musicals, of Ramin Karimloo’s frequent shirtlessness, or all of the above.

Wonderful Town – Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

’It’s the gusto of the performers – and Tim McArthur’s perfect pacing – that breathes new life into this aging material. It fizzes with a youthful effervescence, and the joy is infectious.’

Buzz – A New Musical – Drayton Arms Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Thankfully, though, the subtext never gets in the way of a good fanny-fart joke. If you like your Fringe filthy, don’t miss it!’

Sweeney Todd – Derby Theatre

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

’It is Sophie-Louise Dann who really dominates the show. Her Mrs Lovett, brilliantly varied vocally, alternating between a sinister edge and a really beautiful contrasting, almost cooing sound, is the real star, and a hoot from start to finish.’

The Wind in the Willows  Theatre Royal Plymouth, prior to opening in London’s West End

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘A young audience member summed it up brilliantly: “I expected it to be boring because the story is so old, but actually it was really fun.” ’

1. The West End cast of School of Rock The Musical. Photo credit Tristram Kenton

The West End cast of School of Rock the Musical at the New London Theatre. Picture: Tristram Kenton

NOVEMBER

School of Rock the Musical – New London Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Nobody is ever going to leave the New London feeling that they’ve witnessed a step change in the history of musical theatre – but they will leave joyously, humming some of Lloyd Webber’s best tunes in a long while, feeling better about life. And that, as Dewey Finn might say, is what rock is about.’

The Last Five Years – St James Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘Joyfully illustrating the real meaning of Christmas, George Maguire and Rachael Wooding are perfect. If you love the season it’s a Christmas must see.’

Soho Cinders – Union Theatre, London.

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘But it’s such a watchable show nonetheless, reaching the very heart of this great city, and yet another triumph for the uber-skilled Stiles and Drewe whose Betty Blue Eyes could also do with a London revival. Did they ever write a bad tune?’

Baddies the Musical – Unicorn Theatre, London

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘The whole show is pretty original – a sort of Into the Woods for young audiences – but witty and entertaining as it is, it’s a great deal more than a romp.’

Big the Musical – Theatre Royal Plymouth

Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

‘All in all, director/choreographer Morgan Young’s staging of Big the Musical definitely has the potential to be a very popular show if/when it makes its move to the West End.’

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre (2). Credit Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre, London. Picture: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

DECEMBER

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘The standing ovation Amber Riley receives at the end of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ cements her place as one memorable Effie White.’

She Loves Me – Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

She Loves Me is an ensemble piece, almost a chamber opera. It possesses rare qualities of skill, taste (an old-fashioned virtue but apt in this instance) and humour, all of them honoured in this very touching treat.’

Rent the Musical – St James Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘This latest cast of Rent has surely allowed a whole new generation to be part of this unforgettable show.’

Her Aching Heart – Hope Theatre, London

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Rachael Ryan’s red velvet transformation of the space at the Hope Theatre is luscious and fun and Parker’s ingenious direction pulls it all together in a glorious, idiosyncratic, funny and very poignant, romp.’

Grease – Curve Leicester

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘It takes just the opening title sequence, and then ‘Summer Nights’, for us to sense a display of real talent.’

Strictly Ballroom the Musical – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘The present incarnation, in its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is bold, brash and tremendous fun.’

Sweet Charity – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘By sticking to the spirit of the original production when it counts the creative team demonstrates perfectly how to tweak the action for a new generation, while honouring its intentions.’

Annie Get Your Gun – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

‘Anna-Jane Casey gives a riveting performance. There may be swirls of talented dancers around her, but it is her you watch and the voice is second to none.’

With thanks to Angela Thomas

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