Cast your mind back to 2003. Remember how the arrival of the ‘Big Three’ - The Producers, Mary Poppins and The Woman in White - had everyone hailing it as “the year of the musical”? Three years on, that title has been well and truly usurped.
Forget about a season, in the 2006 West End eco-system, we have three big musicals opening in June (traditionally a slower month on the theatrical calendar) alone: Evita, Avenue Q and Show Boat, the first fully-staged musical ever at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, there are so many musicals that productions are having to invade non-traditional musical venues, including the South Kensington landmark and a plethora of West End playhouses. It is truly the most musically mad year in living memory.
How many musicals are we talking about? At last count, 18 new musical productions – eight new (four of them - Movin' Out, Avenue Q, Wicked and Spamalot - Broadway imports) and ten revivals – have confirmed their West End berths for 2006. Of those, one has already been and gone, four are here and settling into their London homes, and a dozen are still to come.
Add to the 18 new arrivals the 13 musicals already in residence, not least the ultimate long-runners Les Miserables (marking its 21st birthday this October) and The Phantom of the Opera, and you’ve got some 31 shows jockeying for tenancies and audiences in a limited 40 commercial West End venues. In other words, at any one time, a staggering 70 to 75 percent of the commercial sector’s output this year is musicals. With that kind of show-stopping statistic, it’s difficult not to tap along. A run-down of the musicals bustin’ out all over follows…
COME & GONE
What: Contemporary narrative ballet set to songs by Billy Joel and with choreography by Twyla Tharp, one of New York’s most innovative dance creators. Movin' Out ran on Broadway for over three years but moved out after little more than a month in the West End.
Who: Fame Academy’s James Fox led the cast as singer/pianist alongside top dancers and a full band.
When & Where: Opened 10 April 2006 (previews from 28 March) at the Apollo Victoria where it closed on 22 May.
Sinatra at the London Palladium
What: A new multimedia show marrying rare and never-before-seen footage of the late crooner with a live 24-piece orchestra and company of singers and dancers. An earlier version was tried out at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2003.
Who: British director David Leveaux directs, with choreography by Stephen Mear and musical direction by Gareth Valentine.
When & Where: Sinatra opened on 8 March 2006 (previews from 17 February) at, as the title suggests, the London Palladium where it closes on 16 September 2006 to make way for The Sound of Music (see below).
Whistle Down the Wind
What: Inspired by Mary Hayley Bell's novel and Bryan Forbes' classic 1961 film of the same name, Whistle Down the Wind centres on three farm children who discover a man hiding in a barn and mistake him for Jesus.
Who: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman penned this musical, which had a try-out in Washington DC before its 1998 West End premiere at the Aldwych Theatre where it ran for two-and-a-half years. Bill Kenwright directs and produces this reworked production, in which Claire Marlowe plays Swallow and Tim Rogers is The Man.
When & Where: Following extensive touring, Kenwright’s production opened on 27 March 2006 (previews from 15 March) at the Palace Theatre where it closes on 12 August 2006 to make way for the Broadway transfer of Monty Python’s Spamalot (see below).
Mack & Mabel
What: Jerry Herman’s Broadway classic about film director Mack Sennett and his love affair with star in the making, Mabel Normand, during the early days of cinema.
Who: John Doyle directs the Watermill Theatre’s scaled-down production, in which the cast of 12 play their own instruments. David Soul and Janie Dee star in the title roles.
When & Where: The Watermill’s revival of the 1974 musical first played at the Newbury venue in summer 2005, with Anna-Jane Casey as Mabel, the role now played by Dee. A national tour launched at the Theatre Royal Bath on 24 January 2006, and continued until 25 March 2006. Mack and Mabel opened at the West End’s Criterion Theatre on 10 April 2006 (previews from 5 April).
What: Toe-tapping screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1984 movie of the same name, which starred Kevin Bacon as a city boy who locks horns with the minister – and his daughter – in a small American town where dancing has been outlawed.
Who: The stage adaptation has a book by Walter Bobbie and Dean Pitchford, who wrote the original screenplay. It’s directed and choreographed by Karen Bruce. Rising star Derek Hough has won raves for his dance moves as Ren. David Essex has now joined the cast as the righteous reverend opposite fellow Seventies pop star Cheryl Baker (of Bucks Fizz fame) as his wife.
When & Where: Footloose had its Broadway premiere in October 1998, running for nearly two years. It received its UK premiere in February 2004, and has since launched two extensive tours, before coming to the West End’s Novello Theatre (formerly the Strand), where it opened on 12 April 2006 (previews from 8 April).
Sunday in the Park with George
What: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 musical about French impressionist Georges Seurat and his struggles to reconcile his art and personal life. Prior to the West End, this revival of Sunday in the Park with George opened on 29 November 2005 (previews from 18 November) at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, south London, where it had an extended sell-out season until 12 March 2006.
Who: Sam Buntrock directs a cast led by Daniel Evans as George and, new to the cast for the West End, Jenna Russell as his mistress and muse. Designers Timothy Bird and David Farley won this year’s Critics’ Circle Award for Best Design for their ground-breaking use of computer-generated animation in the show, which also scooped the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Off-West End Production following its Menier dates.
When & Where: Opened at Wyndham’s Theatre on 23 May 2006 (previews from 13 May).
What: Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s ground-breaking 1927 musical, last seen in London in a transfer of Hal Prince’s Broadway revival in 1998, Show Boat returns to London as the first-ever fully-staged musical at the Royal Albert Hall.
Who: International director Francesca Zambello heads the in-the-round production, with Peter Davidson’s sets filling the arena of the hall and allowing the audience on all sides to experience the unfolding drama. John Owen-Jones, Rebecca Thornhill and Jenny Galloway form part of the 80-strong company, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
When & Where: Opens 13 June 2006 (previews from 10 June) for 18 performances only until 25 June at the Royal Albert Hall.
What: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1979 musical about the eponymous wife of the former Argentine dictator General Juan Peron receives its first revival since it premiered at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre 18 years ago.
Who: Michael Grandage - artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, whose West End production of Guys and Dolls (with Patrick Swayze joining the cast from 10 July 2006) is still running at the Piccadilly Theatre – directs this highly anticipated new production of Evita. Philip Quast plays Juan Peron, while Argentine actress Elena Roger stars as Eva, a part created by Elaine Paige and subsequently played by the likes of Patti LuPone and Madonna.
When & Where: Opens 21 June 2006 (previews from 2 June) at the Adelphi Theatre.
What: The 2004 winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical, Avenue Q is an adult show, combining puppets and live actors, that’s billed as Sesame Street meets South Park.
Who: Cameron Mackintosh co-produces the West End premiere production of the musical, which has music and lyrics by Broadway newcomers Robert Lopez and Jeff Marks and a book by Jeff Whitty. Jason Moore directs a London cast of largely unknowns, though Ann Harada reprises her Broadway role as Christmas Eve.
When & Where: Opens 28 June (previews from 1 June) at the Noël Coward Theatre (formerly the Albery).
The Rocky Horror Show
What: Richard O’Brien’s cult rock ‘n’ roll musical premiered at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1973 and later spawned the 1975 film (starring Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry and Meatloaf) as well as countless revivals. The score includes "Sweet Transvestite", "Damn It Janet" and "Time Warp". The Rocky Horror Show was recently voted the most popular show in the Royal Court’s 50-year history.
Who: Christopher Luscombe directs Jerry Springer’s David Bedella as Frank N Furter and former Hear’Say band member Suzanne Shaw as Janet.
When & Where: Taking a break from its current regional tour, Rocky Horror is at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre for three weeks from 6 to 22 July 2006 (preview 5 July). It goes back on the road until January, with a longer West End stint on the cards in 2007.
What: Sandy Wilson’s 1954 British musical is set in 1926 at Mme Dubonnet's fashionable finishing school on the French Riviera, where Polly, a millionaire's daughter, falls in love with Tony, a delivery boy. To hold his interest, Polly pretends to be a working girl, but her efforts are complicated by her boy crazy girlfriends.
Who: Ian Talbot directs The Boyfriend, which was first seen at the Players Theatre in London and later transferred to the West End and onto Broadway. At the Open Air, Rachel Jerram stars as Polly, the role that gave a young Julie Andrews her Broadway break.
When & Where: Runs in rep at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 20 July to 9 September 2006 (previews from 18 July).
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
What: Based on the 1954 Oscar-winning MGM musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is set in Oregon circa 1850. Adam, the eldest of seven brothers, goes to town to get a wife. Having convinced Milly to marry him, he brings her back to his backwoods cabin, where she discovers he has six live-in brothers and sets out to reform the uncouth siblings by finding wives of their own.
Who: Dave Willetts and Shona Lindsay reprise their roles as Adam and Milly in the West End following the production’s extensive UK tour. Maurice Lane directs.
When & Where: Opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 16 August 2006 (previews from 10 August).
What: A new musical, inspired by Romeo and Juliet and set in modern multi-cultural London, Daddy Cool is fashioned around Boney M disco hits including “Rivers of Babylon” and “Brown Girl in the Ring”, which are being re-interpreted with contemporary influences.
Who: Ex-So Solid Crew band member Harvey makes his West End debut in Andy Goldberg’s production, which is also due to feature EastEnders’ Michelle Collins.
When & Where: Originally due to open on 16 May (previews from 22 April), the musical will now have its premiere at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 21 September 2006 (previews from 15 August). In March, producers explained that the 12-week postponement would allow the team “to spend more time in pre-production in order to achieve the technical and creative possibilities of the show”.
What: Broadway’s biggest commercial musical hit of the past few years, Wicked rewinds from The Wizard of Oz to tell the 'back story' behind the warring witches.
Who: With a score by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell) and book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the London production reunites the original Broadway creative team under director Joe Mantello. Idina Menzel reprises her Tony Award-winning role as the green-skinned Elphaba in a London cast that also features Helen Dallimore, Adam Garcia, Miriam Margolyes and Nigel Planer.
When & Where: Opens on 27 September 2006 (previews from 7 September) at the Apollo Victoria.
What: Set in the Kit Kat Klub of 1930s Berlin, Cabaret centres on sultry singer Sally Bowles in a tale of pre-war sexual decadence and eroticism. Based on the short stories of Christopher Isherwood and the play by John Van Druten, the 1966 Broadway musical has a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.
Who: Rufus Norris, who won both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Director for Festen, directs Bill Kenwright’s production. No casting has yet been announced though speculation is rife as to who’ll win the part of Sally Bowles, played in the 1972 film by Liza Minnelli and in the original London production by Judi Dench.
When & Where: Opens on 10 October 2006 (previews from 22 September) at the Lyric Theatre.
What: Based on the 1987 film which starred Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, Dirty Dancing is set at an upmarket American holiday camp called Kellerman’s in the 1960s, where the teenaged Baby Houseman falls in love with the camp's working class dance instructor Johnny Castle. Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the original screenplay, has adapted the story for this new stage musical, which has already proved a hit in Australia and Germany.
Who: Original Australian Johnny Josef Brown and Briton Georgina Rich, a recent RADA graduate, will lead the cast of the London production, directed by James Powell.
When & Where: Opens on 24 October 2006 (previews from 28 September) at the Aldwych Theatre, where it’s already broken box office records.
What: The cult 1975 film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail is "lovingly ripped off" for this stage musical about a search for another holy grail - the grail of producing a successful musical on Broadway.
Who: Original Python Eric Idle provides the book, lyrics and co-writes the music with John Du Prez for veteran Broadway director Mike Nichols’ smash-hit production that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. Tim Curry reprises his Broadway role as King Arthur (he’ll be succeeded in January 2007 by National Theatre thesp Simon Russell Beale who also took over from him in New York). The London cast of Spamalot will also feature David Birrell, Hannah Waddingham, Roberts Hands, Tom Goodman-Hill and Christopher Sieber.
When & Where: Opens on 16 October 2006 (previews from 2 October) at the Palace Theatre.
The Sound of Music
What: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-anticipated new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's well-loved musical about a nun who falls in love with a widowed naval captain and his children in pre-war Austria when she becomes their governess. The Sound of Music premiered in 1959 on Broadway, where it ran for 1,443 performances and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It premiered in London in 1961. The 1965 movie version starred Julie Andrews.
Who: An unknown star is to be cast in the role of Maria following a soon-to-be-aired nationwide BBC TV search in the style of The X Factor, entitled How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and hosted by Graham Norton on Saturday nights. Jeremy Sams directs the new stage production, which has set design by Robert Jones and choreography by Arlene Phillips.
When & Where: Opens on 14 November 2006 (previews from 4 November) at the London Palladium.
ALSO RANS & OTHER RUMOURS
Caroline, Or Change
What: Though it’s not in the commercial West End, the National’s production of this musical about race relations set in the American Deep South, will also be throwing itself into the mix this autumn. Caroline, Or Change originally opened at the Public Theater off-Broadway in 2004 before transferring for a short season at Broadway’s O’Neill Theatre.
Who: With book and lyrics by Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie), the show’s New York director George C Wolfe also helms the NT production, which will feature Clive Rowe.
When & Where: Starts performances on 3 October 2006 at the National, where it will run in rep in the NT Lyttelton.
The Last Five Years
What: Tony Award-winning American composer Jason Robert Brown’s autobiographical song cycle about the break-up of a five-year relationship.
Who: Matthew White has signed up to direct the UK premiere of the two-hander.
When & Where: Though no dates have been announced, The Last Five Years is due to open this autumn at Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory, following on from the venue’s success with Sunday in the Park with George (see above).
Porgy & Bess
What: A major new West End revival of the Gershwins’ musical, originally a novel by DuBose Heyward, who adapted it as a stage play two years after its publication in 1925. The story is set in 1912 South Carolina, around Charleston's Catfish Row, and centres on cripple Porgy who offers shelter to Bess, recently broken free from her brutish lover.
Who: Trevor Nunn is tipped to direct.
When & Where: The West End’s Savoy Theatre (home of The Rat Pack) has been linked with the production, which may open as early as this autumn.
The Lord of the Rings
What: The £11.5 million stage version of the JRR Tolkien trilogy which premiered in Toronto in March 2006.
Who: The British creative team includes Matthew Warchus, designer Rob Howell, choreographer Peter Darling.
When & Where: Previously expected to open at the Dominion Theatre (home of We Will Rock You, which has since cancelled its closure there) in early 2006, the four-hour epic is now working towards a summer 2007 opening, possibly at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane if and when The Producers finishes there.
Gone with the Wind
What: A major musical adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s literary classic about the American Civil War, which was workshopped back in November 2004.
Who: Ever-busy director Trevor Nunn is also connected with this mammoth project.
When & Where: Tipped to open in spring/summer 2007, possibly at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - if Frodo and team don’t beat it to the slot.
The Drowsy Chaperone
What: Nominated for 13 Tony Awards, this new Canadian musical about the backstage life of stars in a musical theatre buff’s album collection sees a brazen Broadway starlet trying to find and keep her one true love.
Who: The show has music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.
When & Where: After its success in New York, producers are said to be eyeing up possible London homes for 2007. Yet again, Drury Lane has been mentioned.
What: Robert B Sherman’s 1974 Broadway musical centres on the home front and entertainment of the troops during the Second World War.
When & Where: A new UK production is jostling for a ten-week season in the West End, potentially (again!) at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane as a filler between The Producers and the next big-budget show there.
Me & My Girl
What: A revival of the 1937 musical comedy about a cockney lad who discovers he’s heir to a large fortune (but will he give up his new-found riches for his girl?).
Who: Warren Carlyle directs a cast led by Richard Frame, Faye Tozer, Sylvester McCoy, Dillie Keane and Trevor Bannister. Me and My Girl has music by Noel Gay and lyrics by L Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber who also jointly wrote the book, which was revised in the Eighties by actor-writer-comedian Stephen Fry with contributions by Mike Ockrent.
When & Where: The 75th anniversary production opens at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in September for an eight-month tour ahead of a possible West End transfer in summer/autumn 2007. Three West End venues are reportedly in talks with producers about housing the revival.
- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock