As the London production of Hamilton goes on sale amid much fanfare, garnering extensive interest far beyond the usual circle of musical theatre enthusiasts, let's take a look at some other recent transatlantic transfers.
1. The Book of Mormon
This outrageously funny collaboration between South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q's Robert Lopez has proven a solid, multi-award winning success on both sides of the pond. The improbable tale of a bunch of clueless Mormon missionaries adrift in a fictitious war-torn African country is maybe most surprising for how traditionally well-crafted, even occasionally sweet, it is, if you ignore all the F-bombs. It opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2013, and is still drawing sell out audiences in London and in New York as well as on an extensive US tour.
2. Jersey Boys
The Broadway production has just closed after an 11 and a half year run, and the London version will follow suit at the end of March having played for nine years, but this much-loved bio-musical is a huge smash in anybody's book. The combination of the irresistible Frankie Valli hits, slick staging and inventive storytelling has delighted audiences globally, and touring productions continue in the UK and the USA.
John Waters' outrageous screen comedy about plus-size Tracy Turnblad and her ambitions to be a TV dancer in 1960s Baltimore was turned into a big-haired, big-hearted, colourfully camp Broadway extravaganza that subsequently arrived here in 2007. Michael Ball and Leanne Jones won WhatsOnStage Awards for their glorious turns as Edna and Tracy, and the production filled the Shaftesbury for over 1,000 performances.
Not every show has fared as well as these however. A more recent Shaftesbury tenant, Memphis won the 2010 Tony for Best Musical but only lasted a year in the West End despite excellent reviews and a much praised performance from Beverley Knight. Joe DiPietro and David Bryan's fictionalised account of the birth of rock'n'roll also won the 2015 WhatsOnStage Award for Best New Musical.
5. The Drowsy Chaperone
This quirky musical-within-a-musical had been an acclaimed hit on Broadway and arrived in London in 2007 with original star and co-creator Bob Martin as well as Queen of British musical mheatre Elaine Paige, for once revealing her comedy chops as the permanently plastered title character. It had fabulous word-of-mouth, decent reviews...and lasted two months. Lavishly mounted, the show had clearly been expected to run (Lulu was reportedly lined up to take over as the chaperone after the first six months), and in her book Memories, even Paige admits she had no idea why it failed.
6. Spring Awakening
This alt-rock take on the 1891 German expressionist drama about teen angst and suicide, was the talk of the 2006/7 Broadway season, winning eight Tony awards and launching its youthful cast to stardom. The London production opened at the Lyric Hammersmith for a limited run, before transferred almost immediately to the West End's Novello Theatre where it folded after a mere two months. The advertising campaign may have been a contributory factor: the ubiquitous posters, featuring the enviously photogenic young cast, looked more like advertisements for a trendy vintage clothes shop than a stage musical. Plus the ticket prices in town may have been prohibitively high for the late teen crowd that would seem to be the core audience of this audacious, exciting piece.
7 & 8. Caroline, or Change and Fela
The National hosted this pair of acclaimed New York musicals that probably wouldn't have stood much of chance had they opened cold in the West End.
In Caroline, or Change, Tonya Pinkins reprised her powerhouse Broadway performance as a disempowered black housemaid living through a time of seismic social and political change in 1960s America. Jeanine Tesori's eclectic score -with shades of blues, gospel, Motown, even Jewish klezmer music- is undeniably challenging, as was the spiky, politically potent book by Tony Kushner, whose Angels In America will be receiving a keenly anticipated all star revival at the National this spring. Intellectually and emotionally, Caroline, Or Change was very much an evening "on" -as opposed to a night off- but that didn't stop it from winning the 2007 Olivier award for Best Musical, beating two other, rather more commercially obvious, Broadway imports in Avenue Q and Spamalot.
Fela was a rollicking, confrontational stage biography of Afrobeat pioneer and activist Fela Kuti that did such great business at the National in the winter of 2010/1 that it was brought back for a return season at Sadlers Wells the following year. As with Caroline, Or Change, the original Broadway star transferred with the production, and Sahr Ngaujah proved a force of nature as the eponymous Kuti.
9. Kinky Boots
A solid hit on both sides of the Atlantic (Killian Donnelly, one of the original London leads is currently reprising his role for New York audience), Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's fierce, funny and fabulous adaptation of the film is a real crowd pleaser. The true story of a struggling Northamptonshire shoe factory whose fortunes are turned around by making boots for drag queens, the show remains set in the UK, unlike the Broadway musical adaptation of The Full Monty which didn't fare half so well when it came to the West End.
10. Legally Blonde
Another screen-to-stage adaptation, this differs from everything else on the list in that it was actually a bigger hit here than it was in New York. For starters, it played here in a medium size house (the Savoy, currently home to Dreamgirls) whereas the Broadway production struggled to fill the cavernous Palace on Times Square. The main ingredient in Legally Blonde's West End success though was undoubtedly the initial casting of audience favourite Sheridan Smith in the central role of Elle Woods, for which she garnered terrific reviews and numerous awards.
- Jersey Boys
- Kinky Boots
- The Book of Mormon
- Lyric Hammersmith
- Sheridan Smith
- Sadlers Wells
- Avenue Q
- Jeanine Tesori
- Legally Blonde
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