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Musical Records: Sister, Wicked, Lion & Les Mis

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Never mind the economic and meteorological freeze, West End musicals are clearly hot if going by the various records being broken by several big shows this month.

Over the holiday period, the musical version of screen comedy Sister Act, which had its West End premiere last June, broke the record for the highest-grossing single musical performance at its home, the 2,300-seat London Palladium, taking more than £115,000 on one night and beating the previous record held by its predecessor The Sound of Music. The show also sold its 500,000 ticket over Christmas.

Transplanted to 1970s Philadelphia, Sister Act tells the story of disco diva Deloris, who, after witnessing a murder and being put in protective police custody in a convent, brings some soul to the church choir, much to the initial consternation of the Mother Superior.

The musical has an original score by Alan Menken with lyrics by his long-time collaborator Glenn Slater. Patina Miller stars as Deloris Van Cartier, the part played in the original 1992 film by Whoopi Goldberg, who is co-producing the West End premiere (See News, 14 Nov 2008). The cast also features Sheila Hancock, who has extended her contract until 29 May 2010, playing the Mother Superior, Julia Sutton and Ian Lavender.

At the Lyceum Theatre, Disney’s The Lion King ended its tenth anniversary year by breaking two box office records. It grossed over £32 million at the box office last year, making 2009 its highest grossing year to date. And, from 28 December to 3 January, it broke its own previous weekly record, grossing £800,000 in total – and being seen by 18,757 people across nine performances, making for a 101.2% average attendance (with standing room). In mid-December, it also creeped up the list to become the ninth longest-running musical in West End history.

Based on Disney's 1994 animated feature film, the stage adaptation opened first on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre in November 1997. The original Broadway creative team, led by director and designer Julie Taymor, reunited for the London production.

The Lion King features 15 songs, including the five from the film and new songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, with additional numbers by South African-born Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Hans Zimmer and Julie Taymor. The book is by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi. The current London company features Shaun Escoffery (as Mufasa).

At the Apollo Victoria, Wicked also recorded 2009 as its highest-grossing year to date, taking in £27 million at the box office (up £100,000 from 2008). Now in its fourth year, the Broadway import has taken more than £90 million at the box office in total. It was also recently named Best Musical of the Decade by the American title Entertainment Weekly.

Wicked tells the “untold story” of the Witches of Oz - popular blonde Glinda, aka the Good Witch of the North, and her spin-victim friend Elphaba – who were both immortalised in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz. The musical has a book by Winnie Holtzman, based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. It’s directed by Joe Mantello.

Opened in 2003 on Broadway, Wicked received its West End premiere on 27 September 2006 (previews from 6 September). The current London company is led by Alexia Khadime (who plays the green-skinned Elphaba), Dianne Pilkington (“good witch” Glinda), Harriet Thorpe (Madame Morrible), Oliver Tompsett (Fiyero) and Sam Kelly (The Wizard).

Finally, the West End’s ultimate long-runner Les Miserables marked yet-another milestone this month, playing its 10,000th performance on 5 January 2010. Based on Victor Hugo's classic humanitarian novel about a persecuted man, Jean Valjean, in 19th-century revolutionary France, Les Miserables has a book by Alain Boublil, music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. It’s directed by Trevor Nunn with John Caird and designed by John Napier.

The landmark Royal Shakespeare Company production had its first performance on 8 October 1985 at the Barbican Theatre before transferring, care of producer Cameron Mackintosh, to the West End’s Palace Theatre two months later. It ran at the Palace for 18 years and over 7,500 performances before moving down the road to the Queen’s on 3 April 2004 (See News, 21 Nov 2003). Globally, the musical has been seen by over 55 million people in 40 countries and 21 languages.

All of the above productions have been shortlisted in this year’s tenth annual Whatsonstage.com Awards. Amongst its many nominations, Sister Act is up for Best New Musical, while the others are all competing for the new category for long-runners, Best West End Show. Voting closes on 31 January 2010. CLICK HERE TO VOTE NOW!!


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