West End Musicals
Hamilton, which opened a week before the start of the year under review, was always going to be hard act to follow.
Even so, conceivably because the economics remain so tricky in the current financial climate, there has been a dearth of exciting new musicals, especially from this country. The Americans have always believed that they do musicals best and a stream of productions this year could persuade many viewers that this claim is valid.
One of the most original, Hadestown, is reviewed on the National Theatre’s page.
Otherwise, the picks of 2018 come from the list of revivals. In general, the musical genre has been exempt from the theatre’s general rush in the direction of gender equality and neutrality. However, octogenarian Stephen Sondheim has been persuaded by Marianne Elliott to rewrite Company with a new, female incarnation of Bobby. With Rosalie Craig taking the lead supported by cast included Broadway superstar Patty LuPone, this was an undoubted triumph and proved that ingenuity in the musical field can still pay dividends.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I made its way from the Lincoln Center to the Palladium and, under the sure direction of Bartlett Sher, Ken Watanabe and the incomparable Kelli O’Hara stole the hearts of audience members.
Almost as much fun was Opera North’s Kiss Me Kate at the Coliseum. With Cole Porter’s great songs and an enjoyable staging, this fully justified the trip south.
Fun Home has quite an extraordinary pedigree. In short, this is an American musical, which quickly attracted cult status at the Public and on Broadway before transferring to the Young Vic. The script was based on a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a lesbian growing up in a funeral home with a suicidal father. Ridiculously, it lived up to its title and proved to be surprisingly uplifting.
A more traditional but equally enchanting production was Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier Chocolate Factory. With Sir Trevor Nunn directing Andy Nyman in the lead, this was a holistic production, featuring a bevy of marvellous songs, that drew its audience into the joys and terrors of Russian Jewish life a century ago.
Chess is one of those musicals that devotees talk about but is rarely revived. Hailing from a somewhat incongruous combination of Abba’s male musicians / composers and Sir Tim Rice, another Coliseum production was pleasurable, although one has to question whether this is the kind musical that will endure as well as so many of the others already mentioned.
On a smaller scale, a chamber version by Becca Marriott and Helena Jackson of Verdi’s classic opera La Traviata at the Kings Head was unusual in the extreme with a cast of four (five including the solo pianist) and a modern setting in a dubious night club. The singing was lovely and the staging novel.
One has to give credit to devoted composers and lyricists who continue to churn out new work in the hope that it will turn them into the next Lloyd Webber / Rice.