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WOS 15th birthday: Transporting you back to 1997

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Whatsonstage.com officially turns 15 this week. From humble beginnings we’ve chalked up nearly 10,000 news stories and more than 7,600 reviews, 2,8005 gossip items, 1,500 interviews, 1,100 features and 5,300 ticket offers.

Managing and editorial director Terri Paddock was hired in March 1997 to oversee what at the time she says was "little more than an online listings database."

She posted our first review in July 1997, Ben Elton’s Popcorn, and our first news story a month later, reporting Ian Rickson’s appointment as artistic director of the Royal Court. 

Looking back at those theatrical events got us thinking about other arts, technology and assorted newsworthy happenings in 1997. Below is a selection of 15 (spot the theme) news events to transport you straight back 15 years.

1. Chicago the Musical is revived on the West End

We can find one currently running West End musical which shares our 15th birthday - Kander and Ebb's Chicago which was revived in the West End on 18 November 1997.

The Adelphi Theatre revival opened with Ute Lemper as Velma, Ruthie Henshall as Roxie, Nigel Planer as Amos and Henry Goodman as Billy Flynn and went on to win two Olivier Awards. The production played nine years at the Adelphi, moving to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006. It continues at the Garrick Theatre, where it moved in November 2011. 

2. Blockbuster movie Titanic sets sail

Currently being revived in IMAX 3D to coincide with the centenary of the RMS Titanic's April 1912 sinking, James Cameron's $200 million, three-hour Titanic hit cinema screens on 18 November 1997. The epic-historical-action-romance-disaster film, which starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, went on to pick up 11 Oscars. 

3. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone hits the shops

The first novel in the now multi-million pound Harry Potter franchise, JK Rowling's first book was published by Bloomsbury on 30 June 1997. The Harry Potter series has now sold more than 400 million copies, sparked a blockbuster Warner Bros film franchise and made Rowling the first female billionaire novelist.

4. Labour score a landslide victory in the 1997 general election

On 2 May 1997 the UK woke up to find that Tony Blair had swept to power, ending 18 years of Labour opposition. New Labour returned an unprecedented 418 MPs and began the first of three consecutive terms in government. 

On the opposite benches many key Conservative politicians including Michael Portillo, Malcolm Rifkind, Edwina Currie, Norman Lamont and Neil Hamilton lost their parliamentary seats. John Major was replaced as leader of the Conservative Party in June 1997 by William Hague.

The cast of Cats/[email protected]_IMG 5. Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies come out to play&
10. Cats becomes the longest-running musical in Broadway history

On 19 June 1997, having played 6,138 performances, became the longest running musical in Broadway history. Cats made its West End debut in 1981 and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical premiered in New York City the following year. After 15 successful years of entertaining Broadway audiences, the production made history. 

Three years and 1,347 performances after being named the longest-running musical, however, Cats came to a close. Although it is now surpassed by The Phantom of the Opera, our “memory” of Cats lives on as the second longest-running musical on Broadway.

11. BBC News website launches

In November of 1997, we could – for the first time ever – view BBC News on our computers. Now named the most popular UK news site, roughly 14 million people visit the site every day. The broadcast company reports that, although the web and their site have changed, some features of BBC News Online remain similar to their first launch. Should have known we were in good company.

12. Other big Oscar winners at the 69th Academy Awards include The English Patient

The World War II drama, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes, opened in 1996 and went on to sweep the Academy Awards in 1997. The love story, told through a series of flashbacks, was based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje. After 12 nominations, the film took home nine Oscars including the statuette for Best Picture.

13. The Lion King opens on Broadway

Based on the film, Disney’s most beloved lions came to life for the Broadway stage on 13 November 1997. Julie Taymor's was warmly welcomed by New York critics, going on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical. 

Still performing eight shows a week, the musical is one of Broadway’s longest-running, just behind Chicago. The production also reached the West End in 1998, where it received two Olivier Awards.

14. Chalk one up for girl power - Spiceworld: The Movie

Young girls and teens alike had dreams fulfilled when the Spice Girls released their musical comedy to cinemas. Despite awful reviews and Worst Actress Golden Raspberry Awards, the film received a cult following and happy fans.

Fifteen years later, girl power makes a comeback with the in-the-works musical Viva Forever, based on a song from the pop group’s 1998 album. 

15. Martin Guerre amongst winners at the Olivier Awards

Martin Guerre at the Prince Edward Theatre took home the Olivier for Best New Musical, while Art at the Wyndham’s won Best Comedy. Best Actor and Actress gongs were received by Antony Sher for Stanley and Janet McTeer for A Doll’s House.

And with that we've reached 15 arts, technology and assorted newsworthy happenings of 15 years ago. Leave us your memories of 1997 in the comments below.

- McKenzie Kramer, Hayley Thorpe & Andrew Girvan


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