Ben Hewis: My top 10 shows of 2016
WhatsOnStage deputy editor Ben Hewis picks the ten shows he loved over the past year
1. Hamilton, Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York
Lin Manuel-Miranda's hip-hop musical based on the life of an American founding father has made history as much as educating us about it. Like many, I fell in love with it listening to the cast recording on repeat and was lucky enough to see the original Broadway cast earlier this year. From genre-blending to colour blind casting, it's a game changer on so many levels.
2. Half a Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre
Cameron Mackintosh celebrates 50 years in showbiz with this triumph of a show. Andrew Wright's choreography alongside a barnstorming performance from Charlie Stemp, and beautiful turns from Devon Elise Johnson and Emma Williams, make this my favourite UK show this year.
3. Les Blancs, Olivier, National Theatre
I'm very quickly becoming Yael Farber's biggest fan. Her productions ooze atmosphere and this harrowing take on Lorraine Hansberry's Les Blancs was no exception. Making her National Theatre debut, Farber showed true understanding of the Olivier and produced one of the most rousing shows of the year, with an awe-inspiring central performance from Danny Sapani.
4. She Loves Me, Menier Chocolate Factory
As close to perfection as you can possibly get. The triumphant trio of Paul Farnsworth's designs, a stupendously good cast including the infinitely talented Scarlett Strallen, and Sheldon Harnick's brilliantly witty lyrics, make this a must see this Christmas.
5. People, Places and Things, Wyndham's Theatre
Due to its earlier run at the Nash, you won't find this on many people's lists this year. But the West End transfer of Duncan Macmillan's play about addiction was by far a highlight for me in 2016. This was mainly thanks to the lead performance from Olivier Award-winner Denise Gough, but homage should also be paid to Jeremy Herrin's staging, merging the best of the NT's tech department with the physicality typical of a Headlong production. A stunning piece of theatre that will stick in the minds of those who watched it for years to come.
6. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Criterion Theatre
With three shows running concurrently in the West End, one of their plays licensed in 21 countries around the world, a Broadway debut pending and a BBC One special on New Year's Eve, Mischief Theatre are having a helluva year. With their honest, everyman blend of comedy and mishap, they've dominated theatreland this year and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery was a thrillingly innovative departure from their usual ‘goes wrong' fare.
7. Jekyll & Hyde, The Old Vic
Drew McOnie has been breaking boundaries left, right and centre for a while now, but none more so than his superlative dance-theatre adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll & Hyde. With stunning performances from Danny Collins, Rachel Muldoon and Tim Hodges, McOnie's thrilling production proved once again that he's at the top of his game. Here's hoping for a transfer in 2017.
8. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre
As much as Hamilton broke new ground for musicals, JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne's Cursed Child has done the same for plays. Not only has this masterpiece brought thousands to the theatre for the first time and will continue to do so for many years to come, it has shown them how magical it can be. The illusions, the spectacle, the adventure, and a stunning comedy turn from Anthony Boyle, the eighth story in the Harry Potter series has it all and its residency at the Palace Theatre is a jewel in the crown of the West End.
9. Rent, St James Theatre
As a self-confessed ‘Rent-head' who'd not actually seen a professional production of Jonathan Larson's classic, Bruce Guthrie's 20th anniversary revival had a lot to live up to, and oh my did it. With stellar turns from Layton Williams as the heel-wearing, back-flipping Angel, and the pairing of Lucie Jones and Shanay Holmes as the feisty Maureen and Joanne, Guthrie nailed the casting. His commitment to presenting a definitive production - including travelling to New York to meet with Larson's friends - paid off and the show sold out its London run before it had even opened. Gritty, pumped-up and still so very relevant, you better hope the rumours of a West End transfer are true.
10. Side Show, Southwark Playhouse
Paul Taylor Mills, one of the hardest working producers in the business, was rewarded this year with his own artistic directorship of the upcoming new musicals venue, The Other Palace. It's an exciting opportunity for the young producer who has displayed his programming prowess with sterling productions of In the Heights, Carrie and Bill Russell and Henry Krieger's Side Show, which featured two of my favourite performances of the year from Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louise Dearman.