With 2016 being the first full year of Musical Theatre Musings it is only proper that I do a roundup of the year from my favourite shows and theatres to my own personal blog highlights. Thank you to all my readers and those that invite me to shows and I hope to see many more shows in 2017!!
Best West End Musical….School of Rock
I only gave 2 five star reviews this year (hard to impress I know) and School of Rock was one of them. It is based upon the movie starring Jack Black but with a new score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book by Julian Fellows. After it being a roaring success on Broadway it was only a matter of time before it transferred and sure enough it hit the West End last month.
It achieved mostly 4 or 5 star reviews from the likes of the Guardian, the Stage, What’s on Stage, the Telegraph and of course myself although a few critics (Financial Times I’m looking at you) didn’t enjoy it as much and 2 stars were awarded.
My summary read: School of Rock screams fun. It has become possibly one of my favourite shows on in the West End at the moment, with an insanely talented cast, funny book and catchy score what is there not to like!
Read the full review here….School of Rock.
Best West End Play….Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time
The other 5 star review I gave out this year was to Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I know this play originally opened in 2012 on the West End and since July 2014 in it’s current home but for some reason I just hadn’t seen it…until this year.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time tells of Christopher Boone, a 15 year old boy with Asperger Syndrome. The show opens with Christopher discovering the death of the neighbour’s dog with a pitch fork and Christopher uses his logic to try to determine who the murderer is but in doing so unearths many truths, much closer to home.
Several things about this show earned the 5 star review, including the interesting and engaging manner of storytelling as well as the talented cast who go from performing in a very stylized manner to naturalistic interpretations of their character and were able to switch between the two with seeming ease.
Curious Incident of The Dog at A Nighttime is closing in June so if you haven’t seen it do try and get down to the Gielgud before it closes.
Read the full review here….Curious Incident.
Best Fringe Musical….Sideshow
For several years now my musical theatre loving friends have extoled the virtues of Side Show to me but up until now I have not had the opportunity to see it. Luckily the production of Side Show at the Southwark Playhouse did not disappoint and earned it a 5 star review.
The show tells of conjoined twins, Violet and Daisy who we meet under the charge of ‘Sir’ in a Sideshow. They are there along with a bearded lady, a lizard man, a fortune teller and other such ‘freaks.’ They however soon get scouted and taken to Vaudeville where the twins desire to do what normal folk can do lead to some life lessons and tough decisions.
One huge selling point was the leading ladies in the show – Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford although that being said there really was no weak links in this cast.
My summary read: This is a beautifully touching show with subtle moments really hitting home. Whilst this show dates back to 1997 the themes in this show to me seem more relevant than ever: the price of fame and what is really means to be ‘normal.’ Side Show, with a stellar cast and beautifully designed set, makes you think and what more can you ask for from a piece of theatre than this?
Read the Full Review here…Sideshow.
Best Fringe Play….Stalking The Bogeyman
The Southwark Playhouse seems to have had some success in my roundup as in addition to Sideshow, best fringe play winner and gaining 4 stars also came from Southwark Playhouse over July/August.
I was invited to review Stalking the Bogeyman through the lovely London Theatre Bloggers. This play was not easy watching and it tells of David who gets raped by the ‘Bogeyman,’ aged 7. The Bogeyman is his parent’s friends 17 year old son who he is then forced to see on a frequent basis due to their parent’s friendship. We follow David as he grows up and discover the impact that the rape has on him. Eventually David learns that the Bogeyman is living in the town he has moved to and he begins to plot to kill him.
Out of all the shows I saw in 2016 it was this show that really hit home for me just how important the arts can be. In summary in my review I stated: The most important thing about the show however is that it gives the real David a voice to tell his story. This in turn shows other victims that talking about sexual abuse can in fact empower them. As the programme notes say the stigma prevents action, thus allowing us to remain in denial about the scale of the problem. The cast, set and direction all come together to serve justice to this powerful and moving story. It’s productions like this that demonstrates that the arts do matter and deserves to be seen by many.
Read the full review here…Stalking The Bogeyman.
Best New Musical….Murder Ballad
Murder Ballad took me to the Arts theatre on 2 occasions this year, on the first occasion to attend a sneak preview and then secondly for the show itself.
This show is a sung through rock musical by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash. The show tells the tale of Sara and her affair with ex-partner Tom whilst married to Michael. When Sara tries to call it off the levels of Tom’s obsession is revealed and a murder takes place. Of whom and by whom I will not reveal.
I have to confess that the storyline of love and adultery didn’t quite hit home for me on the originality front. However the cast and some of the music made up for this! Some of the numbers such as the title song ‘Murder Ballad,’ ‘You Belong to Me’ and ‘Clubs and Diamonds,’ have the perfect blend of rock with a sinister quality. I have been listening to these songs on repeat since seeing the show over 6 weeks ago now! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a UK cast recording!!
Read the full review here…Murder Ballad.
Best Amateur Production…Candide by SEDOS
I was lucky enough to have been invited to review several of SEDOS’ productions this year and all of them hit the standard that SEDOS have become known for. Out of all these Candide, at the Bridewell, stood out the most.
The show tells of our simple hero, Candide, who is taught by philosopher Dr Pangloss, that all is for the best. Candide however is about to marry Cunegonde, the baron’s beautiful daughter. The Baron however finds out and exiles Candide. The show follows Candide as he travels around the world, making new friends and encountering old friends on his travels and he is consistently forced to question this philosophy he has had instilled in him.
In summary I said : SEDOS delivered the production in a classy manner with an incredibly strong cast in everything from their characterisation to music and a strong visual feast for the eyes.
Read the full review here….Candide.
Best Concert/Review Show….Closer Than Ever
Earlier this year I attended The Pheasantry to review Closer Than Ever. Closer Than Ever is a song cycle by Maltby & Shire which focuses on love, relationships and the passing of time, a sort of cross between Songs For A New World and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.
This was performed by a small cast of 4, all of whom worked well together and had a perfect mix of sass, comic timing, a soaring soprano voice and leading man looks between the 4.
Unfortunately the show was only on for one night however performances like this show how a fortune does not always need to be spent on set, lighting and huge venues in order to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable night of entertainment. It confirmed that all that really matters is the piece and the talent of those producing and performing the piece.
Read the full review here…. Closer Than Ever.
Best Touring Show….American Idiot
I saw American Idiot on tour, sandwiched between it’s 2 runs at the Arts Theatre. I caught it at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
American Idiot is a musical which contains songs from the Greenday album of the same name, however this is not a jukebox musical and their rock opera concept album set out to tell a story. The show depicts the post 9/11 youth of American as disillusioned and follows the path of 3 young men. Whilst Johnny and Tunny set out to discover themselves Will is left at home with a pregnant girlfriend. Tunny soon finds it difficult to discover his meaning in the city and enrolls in the US Army and is shipped off to war. Johnny left in the city alone turns to drugs and discovers a part of himself and a friend, St Jimmy, who helps him down the path of near self destruction.
Of course the music takes priority in this show, it’s loud and unapologetic with a cast that have consistently strong rock vocals. That being said the choreography was an unexpected highlight in American Idiot for me.
My summary reads: This is not a show for the faint hearted but one that should be seen. If you want a show with poignant commentary on society in an unapologetic bold manner then American Idiot with a cast that have stunning rock vocal abilities then is the show for you.
It also might be of interest that this is my most read review of the year!
Read the Full review here….American Idiot.
Other 4 star reviews include –
Funny Girl (At the Savoy)
The Greater Game (again at Southwark Playhouse)
Reel Life (At St James’)
NB- I don’t give amateur productions star ratings – for more info on why please feel free to read this article.
Best Show Reviewed For Another Publication….The Bodyguard
Asides from writing for this blog I also review for other publications including Sardines and LondonTheatre1 and LastMinuteTheatreTickets. My favourite show reviewed for something other than my blog was The Bodyguard reviewed for Lastminutetheatretickets.
The Bodyguard is of course based on the 1992 film and uses Whitney songs not just from the film but from the rest of her catalogue also. What I loved about this show was that it was just bursting with energy. It is never going to be a show that you leave feeling changed or empowered but it is a show you will simply enjoy if you sit back (or even stand up for the finalie) and enjoy it for what it is.
The Bodyguard is still running at the Dominion with lots of good deals available for it!
2016 has been a good year of theatre. What were your favourite shows of 2016? I’d love to hear from you to see if you agree/disagree with any of the above!