A Musical Renaissance - Sept. 28th 2012

This year we've all been exploiting our inner-Royalist, marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and keeping the bunting out and the red, white & blue clothes on top of the ironing pile while we embraced patriotism for the fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games. 2012 has been a blast. It's raised morale and Britons are feeling cosy, for the most part. But, as a result, some are worried that as we slip into a wet and dark autumn and look to 2013, we will fall into a national depression, with nothing to celebrate or look forward to as a nation. Well, I'm excited about something which I think will see everything coming up roses - MUSICALS. 

For all you musical fans out there, it's an exciting time for us as we see some long-runners and tired shows (Chicago, Blood Brothers and Shrek to name a few) wave goodbye to their West End homes to make way for some exciting new work, imports and revivals. 

We'd all better start saving to get a ticket for some of these hot new productions, some of which I've summarised for you all below...

New Show and/or Adaptations

Matilda has reignited my passion for Roald Dahl, so I'm very excited about the forthcoming production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, opening at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in June 2013 following Shrek's departure. Directed by Sam Mendes, choreographed by Peter Darling and with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitmann (the duo behind Hairspray and the wonderful songs for NBC's Smash), it sounds promising just from the creative team. With Douglas Hodge leading the cast as Willy Wonka, I've a good feeling about this one...

If you were lucky enough to get a ticket for Soho Cinders during its 6-week run at the Soho Theatre this summer, then like me you'll have gone away whistling Stiles & Drewe's inescapably catchy tunes. Loosely based on Cinderella, this bright new show wouldn't work all that well as a West End long-runner given its slightly narrow market, but it would work a charm with a limited run, preferably over Christmas. Luckily, rumour has it that the show might have a short engagement at The Wyndhams theatre over the New Year period, so keep an eye out for confirmation.

Meanwhile, Stiles & Drewe have teamed up with their Mary Poppins collaborator, Julian Fellows, to develop a new stage musical of The Wind in the Willows. Workshops and development for this production will take place in 2013, and we'll keep our 'ear to the reed stems' for more news as it comes.

Whitney Houston's death earlier this year left fans in shock, but it came as no surprise to me when it was announced that The Bodyguard, the movie that saw Whitney act as well as sing, would be staged as a musical. The film of The Bodyguard was a fantastic vehicle for Houston's songs, and while I'm not a fan of 'juke-box' shows, or producers plonking a film on stage (don't get me started on Dirty Dancing), I love The Bodyguard movie and will check out this production. I also adore the Whitney back-catalogue, and it's an extremely talented, and for the most part home-grown, cast and creative team developing the show, which also pleases me. The Bodyguard opens at the Adelphi in November, following Sweeney Todd's wake.

Talking of 'juke-box' shows, Ghost's closure makes way for the much publicised 'Spice Girls musical' Viva Forever, which opens at the Piccadilly Theatre in November. With a book by Jennifer Saunders, music by The Spice Girls and produced by Judy Cramer (who bought us all Mamma Mia), I have no doubt that this will be a hot ticket. I won't be in any rush to buy one though. The premise of the book is a little too obvious for my liking, and while I love The Spice Girls, this has 'money-spinner' written all over it. Still, the theatre industry needs to reflect the broad tastes of its audiences, and if it means people are watching live performance and supporting the culture industry, then it shouldn’t be scorned... 

With Chicago off on a UK tour, The Garrick is now home to Loserville, which opens on October 1st, having been tried and tested up at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. With book, music and lyrics by Elliot Davis (Soho Cinders) and James Bourne of Busted fame, this show is inspired by Bourne's album with Son of Dork, the band he formed after Busted, well, bust-up. It's being billed as 'the new Grease', full of 70s geeks and jocks and their high school dramas. Whether punk-rock is your thing or not, what excites me about Loserville is that it is a NEW, ORIGINAL musical and that it is BRITISH, the likes of which rarely get seen in the West End. Its development from a Youth Music Theatre (YMT: UK) production in 2009, to its outing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and into the West End means that it's been nurtured and developed sensibly, with the West End seeming the next logical step. It might not be my cup of tea musically, but I'm all for it creatively, and wish it lots of success. 

Revivals

2013 holds in store one of the most exciting revivals to have hit London in years - A Chorus Line. The multiple Tony award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama winning musical (not to mention every other plaudit you could ever dream of for a show) revolutionised Broadway in the 70s. Developing a show with and for Broadway dancers, the book was developed by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante out of dancers' personal stories and has a dazzling score by the late Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban. It was a very fresh approach to musical theatre writing and a style and premise which hasn't really been matched since.

This production will be the first time that A Chorus Line has graced the West End since its original London run in 1975. With The Wizard of Oz now closed, The London Palladium is free to host the revival, which opens in February 2013. I played in the pit band for A Chorus Line at university (as mentioned in this previous blog), and it's a show I'm very fond of for various reasons. You'll definitely see me clutching a ticket for the best seat in the house.

Monty Python's Spamalot has now wound its way back to the West End following what felt like a never-ending UK tour; it's currently booking 'til April at the Playhouse Theatre. I saw it in Wimbledon last year and had an enjoyable evening. It's a show that is very aware of its own jokes and runs the risk of predicting the laughs, rather than letting them come naturally. I'm not sure it'll stick around for too long, but I'm always happy to be proved wrong! 

Transfers 

Chichester Festival Theatre has served up two superb transfers to the West End in the last year with Singin' in the Rain at the Palace Theatre and Sweeney Todd’s run at the Adelphi. Its co-production of Kiss Me Kate with The Old Vic was a sell-out success over the summer season in Chichester, and will open at London's Old Vic in November. I wouldn't be surprised if it'll move north of the river for a West End run after that, but in case it doesn't, make sure you bag a ticket for Cole Porter's 'darn hot' score.

New York is still seen as a Mecca of musicals, so it’s exciting to have one of the most talked about shows ever opening in London in 2013. The Book of Mormon won 9 Tony Awards and both entertained and outraged critics and audiences with its irreverent story about two young Mormon missionaries sent to a Ugandan village to share the Book of Mormon, one of their scriptures. Not only religious satire, but musical satire, the show was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, along with Robert Lopez, co-writer of Avenue Q. If you’re familiar with either of those two exports of culture, then you can gauge the tone of the piece. 

I've had the Broadway cast recording of the show for some time and while I enjoy the musical references and some of the humour, out of context it's not a show that I listen to over and over, so I'm looking forward to seeing it on stage, pieced together. How it will fare with British audiences remains to be seen, but as South Park and Avenue Q proved more popular here than in the States, this will probably be a long runner. One things for sure, the 2013 Olivier award for Best New Musical is going to be a real contender!

Green Day's rock opera American Idiot is touring the UK from October, finishing up in London at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo in December. As already mentioned in this blog, I'm a bit sceptical about a band's back-catalogue being produced on stage, but American Idiot should work well as a concert tour, and Billie Joe Armstrong's (Green Day's front man) recent on-stage meltdown and subsequent admission to rehab will have certainly put a spotlight on the band in the last week; and you know they say there's no such thing as bad publicity... 

Fans of the Indie film hit Once will want to check out the Broadway transfer of its stage musical. It bagged this year’s Tony Award for Best New Musical and follows the love affair of an Irish man and Eastern European girl whose story is told through songs they write one another in a pub. It'll be interesting to see how the film translates to the stage of the Phoenix Theatre, where it'll open after Goodnight Mister Tom's limited winter run following Blood Brothers' tenure at the venue.

Regional Theatre

I've already mentioned transfers from the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Chichester, but there is another regional theatre producing exciting revivals and new work - The Leicester Curve. Following their acclaimed revival of Gypsy earlier this year (which I had hoped, and still hope, will come to London), the theatre will see Hello, Dolly! opening for three months in November, and this week sees the premiere of Finding Neverland, a musical adaptation of the 2004 film of the same name. I'm looking forward to checking out the reviews and seeing how this production develops.

Whether any of these shows will monopolise 2013's Olivier Awards in the way that Matilda did earlier this year remains to be seen, but one things for sure, there's something of a musical Renaissance on its way to the UK, and I'm just a tad excited.

- Anna