Musical Theatre Musings Stagey Review of 2020

Text says Stagey review of 2020 in white against a red background. 3 photos surround it. Photo 1 is a sign outside Les Miserables saying 'We'll be Back.' Photo 2 is me in a red dress sitting on programmes. Photo 3 is me in a black mask with white music notes on it.

Each year I traditionally post a roundup of the year when I look back over the 100+ shows I’ve seen and declare my favourite West End Musical, Fringe Play, Family show of the year as well as everything in between. Of course 2020 is different so I wanted to recognise it with a slightly different stagey review post.

Breakout Venue – Garden Theatre

As soon as outdoor venues were allowed to open, one of the first press releases I received was for a new Theatre called The Garden Theatre and their inaugural production of Fanny & Stella. The theatre is essentially a new pub theatre in the beer garden of The Eagle pub in Vauxhall. Since that first invite I have attended Pippin, Next Thing You Know (which was part of Gradfest) and Frostbite (Who Pinched My Muff). The shows are always high quality, the staff are so friendly and their can-do attitude when it comes to putting shows on in these unprecedented times is wonderful. I really hope that The Garden Theatre remains when theatres open more widely.

Breakout Production Company – Lambert Jackson Production Company

Lambert Jackson productions were already producing top quality shows prior to lockdown but since lockdown they have lead the way throughout 2020 in ensuring theatre can go on. They have put together a huge variety of offerings including, Leave A Light On (a virtual concert series), Songs For A New World at the London Palladium, live streamed concerts from the likes of Lucie Jones and David Hunter and Nicole Raquel Dennis and Sam Tutty and a lockdown virtual performance of The Last 5 Years. With more shows in the pipeline they have really put themselves on the stagey map in 2020.

Favourite At Home Stagey Experience – Hamilton on Disney +

I have to admit (and I’m sure this confession rings true for many), that I only got Disney + in order to watch Hamilton. I was in the lucky position that I have already seen it twice on the West End (review here) but it was wonderful to be able to see the OG Broadway Cast. I thought it was captured beautifully and well worth the subscription cost for Disney + alone. If you haven’t seen it or are re-watching it over the festive period then check out this article which details things to look out for.

Favourite At Home Interactive Stagey Experience – All The Stagey Quizzes

There was a huge range of stagey quizzes, from those organised between friends, to ones run by bloggers such as myself to those run by the likes of the Theatre Café. My favourite (just because I actually managed to organise a team with a friend who we video called during it) was by All That Scratch Productions. They screened it live on You Tube and it was a fun way to spend an evening.

If you like quizzes you might want to check out the online quizzes I have on my blog including Movie Musicals and West End shows.

Favourite Lockdown Cast Video – Six

Back in May I looked at the lockdown cast videos that have been released (check out my top 10 here). So many of them are poignant, for example The Rock of Ages one has been dedicated to Nick Cordero, the Hamilton one starts with a call to a young fan and the Wicked one raised money for Make A Difference Trust. My favourite video for no other reason than feel good vibes is the casts of Six performing Ex-Wives/ Six. It is the perfect one to crank up the volume and dance around your living room.

Favourite Stagey Read – 20 Theatres To See Before You Die

A picture of the book twenty theatres to see before you die on a bedside table with a candle lit

I was sent this book to read back in May and I had no idea that by the end of the book I would not only be left pondering which my favourite theatres are in the UK but also what theatre means to me and what more I wanted from the theatre I often surrounded myself by.

You can read my full review of the book here.

Favourite Socially Distanced Show – Songs For A New World

I’ve already mentioned Lambert Jackson productions and Songs For A New World wins my vote for favourite socially distanced show. You can read my full review here which is in awe of the stunning cast but this sums it up –

“Every trip to the theatre currently feels so special, living without it for several months really makes you appreciate the whole experience of attending the theatre. Songs For A New World not only embodied this feeling but was a wonderful piece of theatre in its own right.”

Runner Up – Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park Open Air Theatre.

This was a special concert version of the show, with the same team that brought the full show to Regents Park in 2016 and 2017 as well as the Barbican last year. I saw in when it was on in 2017 but I decided that another visit was in order. My thoughts were:

Whilst the show is billed as a concert version and a shorter than normal running time (90 minutes) calling it a concert does it an injustice. Whilst the vocals and the sound took centre stage, the choreography and the inventive staging just as spine tingling. Last time I saw the show I was slightly confused by its identity but this reworked version really suited it, lending itself to the rock concert vibe.

Most Read Article of 2020 – Amateur Theatre Is Racist

In June, after the death of George Floyd caused many of us to look inwardly at our own hobbies and interests and see how racism and white privildge effects them. I decided to look at amateur theatre in particular and after speaking to performers of colour I published this article on why amaeatur theatre is racist but also suggestions on how to begin to improve the situation. I hope to publish a follow up in 2021 which looks at steps amateur theatre companies have taken so watch this space.

To read the full article click here.

You might also enjoy my article on theatre by black creators.

Favourite Pre-Lockdown Show – Be More Chill

I thought it would be remiss of me to not recognise that we were allowed in theatres, without social distancing up until March and there was plenty to see in the first few months of the year. This show has a big cult following and after seeing it in February I can understand why. Whilst the run was sadly cut short I summed the show up as follows:

Be More Chill may sound like your typical geek power musical but when you peer beneath the surface you get the squip….combine this intriguing plot point with a talented young cast, a huge amount of energy and some songs that are sure to make it into many rep folders, C-C-C-C’mon and get down to The Other Palace.

Other Lockdown Stagey Moments that deserve a mention –

I couldn’t get through a roundup of 2020 without mentioning some personal stagey highs –

  • Attending the Online press night for the Joseph Concert – being on a zoom call with so many big names was surreal.
  • Interviewing Matthew Rowland, Jenna Lee James, Steph Parry, Zoe Humphreys, Alice Fearn, Lori McClare and Cal-I Jonel on Instagram as part of my interview series.
  • Speaking to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London about social Distancing in theatres.
  • Working with companies such as Stage Addict, The Theatre Shop, Bottle Bar and Shop in Catford and The Cocktail Delivery Company.
  • Pre Covid- attending a press night at Kensington Palace for United Queendom- possibly the most prestigious location I’ve been to for a press night.

Biggest Positive of 2020 –

2020 has clearly been a devestating year for theatre and everyone that works in the industry. I did however want to highlight one positive and that is the improved accessibility that online streaming has brought. Many of these shows are at a much more affordable price point which opens up these shows for a wider audience. This saves not only a large amount on the ticket price but also the travel to the theatre. I do hope that when theatres reopen they continue to think of inventive ways to continue to stream some of the shows meaning that a wider audience will get to appreciate these shows.

I hope that you enjoyed this stagey review and that 2021 brings me more time in the theatre and I’m sure that I will relish the opportunity every time I enter an auditorium.

What were your stagey highlights of 2020 – I would love to hear about them all!

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