West End Musicals

The appetite for producing musicals has returned with a vengeance although some producers might be licking their wounds.

Currently, there are four sources that are each proving popular:

  • First, a brand-new piece written especially for the West End can take its chances.
  • Secondly, a respectable musical produced out of London or in a smaller theatre can transfer.
  • Thirdly, there are the American imports
  • Finally, old favourites are reappearing in new clothes with remarkable alacrity.

In the first category is one of this writer’s favourite musicals of 2014, although it did not meet with universal good favour. Made in Dagenham stars Gemma Arterton and is based on a heart-warming British film. It attempts to bring union politics on to the musical stage in a fashion last seen, in this country at least, with Billy Elliot. While a dream team of writer Richard Bean and director Rupert Goold ought to offer a sure-fire hit, the jury is still out.

I Can’t Sing had its own jury, being based on TV series The X Factor. Regrettably, it got far too close to living up to its name and left the Palladium forlorn and empty within a couple of months of opening.

The transfer market seems to be a safer bet at present. Sunny Afternoon, sold out its run at Hampstead and is now attempting to repeat the trick in the West End. While the book may not be the strongest around it is serviceable and a jukebox musical celebrating The Kinks literally has oldies rocking in the aisles.

The Scottsboro Boys had been a real winner for the Young Vic the year before but lacking big names even a stream of drooling reviews struggled to make one of the best musicals around a big West End draw.

Broadway continues to be a healthy source of inspiration for London creative teams.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is currently recasting so has clearly been one of this year’s success stories. With Robert Lindsay heading a strong cast in another musical based on a movie it had the makings of a light-hearted hit despite a trite book.

Memphis is something else. With a heart-breaking story of illicit love across racial lines, unlimited energy, great performances and fantastic blues and soul songs, Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly gave their all at the head of a super cast.

Audiences might love the familiar and shows like Les Misérables have been running for decades, while Matilda the Musical looks set to follow suit.

However, sometimes it is hard to raise much enthusiasm for old favourites like Miss Saigon, Cats and Evita, which just keep coming back without necessarily offering anything fresh or new. Since they seem guaranteed to fill the pockets of those involved, we will just have to make the most of the revivals.

More original was Oh What a Lovely War. Admittedly, the Theatre Royal Stratford East is not quite the West End but this joyous satire delivering some serious political messages about the pointlessness of war is now set for a tour and really should eventually end up in the West End.

From even further back, The Pajama Game had everything that big fans of musicals really love, catchy 1950s songs, great dance numbers and the story ironically, like Made in Dagenham, set in a factory where staff rebel and the union seems all too inclined to side with management.